Western Pa. church hoops league celebrates 30 years of competition, camaraderie

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Big Parkway East Men's Church Basketball League is marking its 30th year and has grown in size with teams from across Western Pennsylvania.

The league had eight teams from the east suburbs in 1985, the year it was founded.

Now, there are 12 teams with members from Allegheny and surrounding counties.

All teams will compete in a single-elimination tournament set to begin on Saturday at the Beulah Presbyterian Church gymnasium in Churchill.

The top seed, Crossroads (12-1), is favored to win its third consecutive title. The church has locations in North Fayette, Bridgeville, Cranberry and East Liberty.

“We have more teams, plus better-quality players,” said longtime commissioner Greg Spalding, noting many players have high school or small college experience.

“There's a lot of good competition,” said Ben Mahtani, 27, one of the league's top scorers (26.2 points per game on average) playing for New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroeville.

Before games, members of all teams are required to say a prayer and read a devotional message.

“It's a good Christian league,” said Jeriah McMillan, 31, a player and coach for Friendship Community Church in West Oakland.

Players said the pre-game reflection encourages sportsmanship.

“In the heat of competition, sometimes you use words you should not use,” said Friendship Community's Quinzale Taylor, 30. “By following simple rules, you learn not to use profanity.”

“I've helped out in leagues where games were not finished because players were arguing,” said Demetrius Grimsley, 37, a player-coach for Allegheny Center Alliance Church in the North Side. “In this league, you develop a lot of good friendships.”

Lew McCracken, a player-coach for the Diocese of Greensburg, likes the league's stability.

“Teams have stayed around,” said McCracken, 43. “They don't change from year to year.”

McCracken's son, Gage, also plays. “I used to keep score (for) games as a kid and have been wanting to play in them,” said Gage McCracken, 16, who finds the league competitive and fun.

Adam Holy, coach of the Crossroads team, likes the league's camaraderie. “You make good connections and get good exercise,” he said. “We've had success because of teamwork and good communication.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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