Courting a Dream

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Basketball League the Stuff Movies Are Made Of

“I have just created something totally illogical.” – Ray Kinsellaiphone_214_317-cropped

In the 1989 classic movie “Field of Dreams,” an Iowa farmer acquiesced to voices he heard in his cornfield, plowed under a portion of his major crop, and built a baseball field.

In 1991, the son of a local Baptist preacher began hosting an outdoor basketball league in a section of his soybean farm. Perhaps guided by an inner voice delivering the same advice the movie character Terence Mann provided a less-than-confident Ray Kinsella (“People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come!”), Kurt McGraw decided to follow his own dream, however unusual it seemed to others.

And people have come – not to Iowa, but to Ohio – by the thousands.

The McGraw Summer League, located just outside Sciotoville (1.3 miles north of U.S. Route 52 on Ohio State Route 140), is tucked behind the aforementioned soybean field on the left-hand side of the road. If you aren’t looking for it, you’ll miss it. There are no road signs. Google Maps will lead you to a funeral home or a gas station several miles down the road. Hint: Check the odometer and, at 1.2 miles, start looking left for 10 hoops glistening in the sun, a few hundred yards behind a sea of green vegetation.

Four courts (two built in 1990 and two built in 1995) draw kids from a wide radius to do something few kids seem to do these days…play outside. “When I grew up, there was no other place to play but outside,” McGraw said. “Some of my best memories are playing outside with my friends.” And he’s certain the estimated 20,000 participants who have played ball on his courts have built similar lifetime memories. The summer league, which caters to girls and boys in first through eighth grade, begins each year in early June and runs until late July. All games are played on Fridays and Saturdays.  The fall league, in its sixth season, tipped off this year September 7. Games will be played Sundays from 2-6 p.m. “Or,” McGraw said with a grin, “…until they’re done.” Typically, teams already organized elsewhere show up to take on opponents they don’t face in their respective hometown leagues. However, kids who show up individually are always placed on a team. The league fee is $50 per player, which includes a team T-shirt.

Approximately half of the teams that show up for McGraw’s leagues come from Kentucky and West Virginia. The other half, of course, comes from Ohio. “It’s a good mix,” he said. “We get different kids in the summer league than we do in the fall league.” And, since its inception, this league has focused solely on the game of basketball while shunning individual and team awards. “My goal is to create a love for the game with younger kids. If you run tournaments, keep statistics and give individual awards, you take away from the real joy of the game. We just play.”

McGraw, a 1989 Wheelersburg High School grad, has loved basketball since childhood. Following his prep career, he shifted out of the continental U.S. and displayed his basketball skills at the University of Hawaii. “I always wanted to go there and play,” he said. “People told me I couldn’t do it.” But few people tell him that anymore. The self-employed energy broker appears sufficiently confident in his ability to create and achieve dreams.

From time to time, basketball phenoms will stop by his courts to help children ramp up their game. Jamie Dixon, head coach at the University of Pittsburgh since 2003, stopped by one summer to offer guidance. Dixon was an assistant coach at Hawaii when McGraw played for the Rainbow Warriors. Former Kentucky Wildcats’ standouts Scott Padgett (now the head coach at Samford University) and Jared Prickett have also made appearances at McGraw’s outdoor basketball mecca.

McGraw estimates approximately 60 of his former participants have gone on to play college basketball. When asked about repeat customers, he laughed and said, “Kids who once played here now have kids who play here.” This year, his brother Ryan McGraw, assistant principal at Minford High School, along with several local hoops coaches ran a basketball camp to instruct local children. Another camp is tentatively slated for fall.

Sitting under a shade tree adjacent to his two courts, McGraw produced multiple pictures of past leagues. Children covered the courts. Parents cheered from lawn chairs on the sidelines. And, in every picture, nature dominated the background. “There’s no place like this in the country,” he said, obviously proud to have created something so unique and watch it stand the test of time. But, he noted he couldn’t have accomplished his goals without the help of many of his friends and neighbors. “I have great support from this community,” he said. He also has great support from his immediate family, noting his wife Kelly, son Dakota and daughters Klaire and Kennedy each pitch in mightily to make the league a true family affair. “Without them, I couldn’t do it,” he said.

As he collected the many photos lying on the picnic table, McGraw looked toward his soybean crop and said, “This is kind of like ‘Field of Dreams.’ At night, you can see the headlights running up and down the road.

However, this place is real, and thousands of dreams have been made realities right here.

Visit www.mcgrawleague.net or look up McGraw Basketball League on Facebook for information about upcoming leagues and camps.

Photos compliments McGraw League Basketball

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