AAU spirit lives on

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 13, 2004

The large amount of high schools in Selma can only breed envy and rivalries among teams and players. Enter the local Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU.

The AAU is one of the largest non-profit volunteer sports organizations in the United States dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.

The organization also gives youngsters the opportunity to participate in area, regional and national tournaments in sports such as baseball, basketball, cheerleading, golf, martial arts, gymnastics, softball, soccer, volleyball and more.

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Coach George Wood has been the area AAU girls’ basketball coach since 1999. He currently coaches three teams, including the 14-and-under, 16-and-under and 17-and-under squads in Selma. During his tenure as coach Wood, who works as a veterinarian at the Selma Animal Hospital, has seen his share of girls from rival schools come together, put aside their differences and play as a team. His 17-and-under squad this season finished second in the state. In the past three seasons, Wood’s teams have finished second once and third three other times.

The success has been particularly incredible considering the fact that Wood keeps every player who tries out for a team.

“We don’t have tryouts and we’ve never cut a player or told them not to come back,” Wood said. “If they’re willing to show up at the practices and games, they’re going to be on the team.”

“It’s been a long ride, but it’s been a fun one,” Wood said. “It’s been cool to watch the kids work together. They go on trips and they stay in hotels together. There’s rarely a problem with the kids. When there is, they usually settle it between themselves.”

The three area AAU teams are made up of players from seven of the eight area public high schools. They include Selma, Southside, Tipton, Dallas County, Martin, Keith and R.C. Hatch high schools, Wilcox Academy, Meadowview Christian Academy and Selma Middle School CHAT.

Wood said this season’s teams began with a combined 50 players, but the number slowly dropped to 36 as the season went on. Wood said those who were unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to be on the teams simply stopped coming to practice.

Discipline has rarely been a problem for Wood and his players. The main problem has been funding the trips they make to different tournaments with Wood’s hopes of getting his players exposure to collegiate coaches.

Wood said it costs between $4,000 and $5,000 every year to pay his team’s expenses, including uniforms.

“We do things a little different here,” he said. “Most AAU programs make their kids pay for their uniforms and for hotel rooms on any trip they make. Our kids don’t pay a cent.”

Rather, the necessary funds come from private individuals as well as area businesses. Wood said a business also donated the uniforms used this season.

The spirit of athletic competition lives in the AAU, especially for Wood. He said he would always remember what the AAU is all about.

“This isn’t about the coaches getting individual glory,” Wood said. “This is about the kids and about them getting the exposure they deserve.

“We’ve won just one tournament the past six years because we’re not going to play just our top five players,” Wood added. “Everybody gets to play. We’re into getting players exposure and making them better players when they go back to their coaches and teams.”

Among the players Wood currently coaches, a host of them have displayed their on-court abilities. Those Wood is high on include Kim Wilson and Santana Seay from Selma High School and Haley McIntyre of Meadowview Christian Academy.

Wilson, center for the Lady Saints, was named to the Class 6A All-State Team and also was a member of the All-State Tournament Team this season.

Seay started at guard for the Lady Saints this year, while McIntyre was a standout for the Lady Trojans.

“All three of them could play Division I college basketball,” Wood said.

Wood also is looking forward to seeing the improvement of several younger players. Among those is Richelle Jones, a 6-foot, 3-inch 14-year-old playing on the 16-and-under team. Jones will be at Selma High next season.

Unfortunately for Wood and his players, the growing costs and travel expenses prohibit them from competing at the regional and national levels.

“I just hope college take the time to look at the players through their respective schools,” Wood said. “We’ve got a lot of talented players around the area.”