It’s a city tradition. It’s a feeder program for the high school team. It instills a general love for the game. It teaches physical skills and life lessons.
But the most important thing about the Lebanon Biddy program is that it encourages children to play basketball. There’s something basic and pure and healthy about kids playing a game.
Under the watchful supervision of a dozen dedicated adult volunteers, the Lebanon Biddy basketball program continues to flourish. Over the years, the program has benefitted hundreds and hundreds of city youths and their families, in a variety of ways.
That accumulative effect has helped make Lebanon a better place to live.
“It’s about the kids in the city of Lebanon and the Lebanon school district,” said George Kreiser, who’s been directing the boys’ Biddy program since 2012. “It’s something that will help them develop skills. It’s not all about the basketball. Life lessons are important to all of us. You learn something every day. I want these kids to be successful and be better than they were yesterday. Life is tough for everybody.”
Sponsored by the city’s recreation department, the Lebanon Biddy basketball program currently involves around 150 boys in grades 1 through 6 – a number that at its height hovered closer to 200. Practice begins in October; games usually are played in January, and some of the more serious players are chosen for travel teams that compete against similar teams from neighboring areas.
Most of the Lebanon Biddy basketball practices and games are held in the gymnasiums at the Lebanon middle and high schools.
“I want them to develop life skills,” said Kreiser. “One of the most impressive things is when the high school kids return to coach. These kids look up to the high school kids. Like, ‘I want to be like you.’ But the first- and second-graders are just having fun. Sometimes they just shake their heads, ‘yeah.’
“I’d like to see them develop a couple of skills each year,” he continued. “Sometimes I’ll ask them, ‘Do you want to be a basketball player or a kid who plays basketball?’ If you do, you’ve got to work on things, and we’ll teach you. We want to get them out there playing. The first thing you need to play basketball is good grades. The last thing I tell them before they leave is ‘go say thank you to your parents because they brought you here.’”
Besides occupying kids’ time and giving them something to do, Lebanon Biddy basketball has served as a foundation for the Cedars’ tradition of success. The high school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are among the most competitive scholastic programs in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
Biddy basketball has also served as a model and inspiration for other youth programs in the city.
“The goal is to develop these boys and prepare them for the middle school and then the high school,” said Kreiser. “And have fun, that’s a key thing. If you get kids to Biddy they’re not running around on the streets. Kids need something to do, and this is something fun for them to do. They have an interest in sport. Some of our kids play soccer or go to wrestling. They’re involved. They’re doing something, that’s all that matters.”
The Lebanon Biddy basketball program began in 1987 as a collaboration between the city and school district. Its popularity exploded under the guidance of legendary director Jon Wilson.
Later, Lou Zeck founded a similar Biddy basketball program for girls, before handing off the reigns to Jerry Lampkin.
“Things do change. But not much has changed with the Biddy program,” said Kreiser. “Kris (Uffner, the current Lebanon boys’ basketball coach) came in last year and we sat down as a group and we’re trying to improve it even more. I have kids reach out to me and ask, ‘Hey can we help out and officiate?’ Absolutely. I see a lot of kids be successful growing up. Lebanon sometimes gets a bad rap, but we’ve got good kids coming through the school.
“I just love the game. I love teaching the game,” he concluded. “I’d rather practice and teach than coach. If we run something and don’t get it right the first time, we’re going to keep running it until we do. It’s about teaching the kids the game of life. You’ve to have respect and respect your elders.”
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