The end of Biddy Basketball in Wichita

I couldn’t believe the headline or the news release.  While I haven’t attended a Biddy Basketball game in years, I always assumed children would have the opportunity to be introduced to basketball and able to play the game through the Salvation Army’s Biddy Basketball program. After all, my little brother and a hundred of my cousins played. Then I read this:

The Salvation Army is celebrating the 125th anniversary of service to the Wichita community.
“The motto of The Salvation Army, ‘Doing the Most Good’, challenges us to always assess our community’s most critical needs and determine how best to serve them,” said Major Douglas Rowland, City Commander for The Salvation Army.
Biddy Basketball has helped to develop thousands of boys and girls in Wichita and around the world for over 50 years.  We thank all of the many sponsors and volunteers who have made this service possible.
“Wichita has an abundance of excellent youth athletic programs delivered throughout South Central Kansas. With the economic downturn, the demand for our core services has increased requiring us to reevaluate our programs in order to most effectively use our financial resources,” Rowland added.  Because of the availability of other programs in the area and to meet the increasing critical needs of families, The Salvation Army has decided to end its Biddy Basketball program at the end of this current season; and thereby strengthen our essential services to the community.
Thank you for your great support of The Salvation Army and Wichita’s youth and families through these many years; and, thank you for your support in the years to come.
 
Biddy Basketball was an essential part of my growing up. Sure I watched on TV, sure my dad took me to my first Shocker basketball game when I was seven, but Biddy Basketball was up close and personal. I went to the games, sat on the hard bleachers or on the gym floor, stood along walls just to watch my brother and cousins squeak up and down those courts. I can smell the popcorn and the sweat of young boys, kind of a buttery wet-dog smell, even now.  I loved going to those games. I loved my brother’s shiny satin-like dark blue uniforms. My cousin Steve earned his nickname, Bird, playing Biddy ball. And under Coach Julian Arellano, Steve was able to travel to Puerto Rico and Finland. Not too shabby for a kid named Barrientos who lived in what is considered the North End of Wichita.
 
My little brother traveled to New Orleans for a Biddy tournament where he saw the Louisiana Superdome, ate crawfish for the first time, and walked down Bourbon Street. And I recall vividly when the local Wichita tournament was held, the teams from Puerto Rico brought what seemed their entire towns with them. Their cheer resounded throughout the gym, “Puerto Rico…Fwah! Puerto Rico…Fwah, Fwah Fwah!”
Biddy Basketball allowed young people to leave their neighborhoods, meet new friends, try different things, and grow.
 
The NBA list of players who began in Biddy Basketball programs is long, beginning with Julius Erving and Larry Bird, and continuing with Avery Johnson, Chris Duhon, and our own local faves Darnell Valentine, Antoine Carr, Aubrey Sherrod, and Greg Dreiling.
 
To see this incredible program end is beyond heart breaking. True there are many different youth programs available, but when I think of youth basketball, I think of Biddy Basketball. I’m sure the program has changed over the years, but I still find it difficult to accept the end of a program that changed the lives of so many young people, including my family. And  me.
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