Northside hoops league starts teaching the game young






While the NBA and NHL playoffs are well underway, the NABA is winding down its regular season.

The North Area Basketball Association (NABA) has been playing Saturday morning games at North High School since late March. The spring league features up to 90 boys and girls in grades K-4, learning how to play the game the right way.

“I learned how to shoot a left hand lay-up and how to dribble,” said eight-year-old Elisiah Robinson. However, his mother, Vanessa Petty, says her son is a regular participant because of the socialization skills he’s learning as well.

“I think it’s good for him learning discipline and being with a team,” saidTlissia Smith as she watched her diminutive six-year-old son Anthony try hard to get the ball up to the rim or backboard during a lay-up shooting drill. Nonetheless, his enthusiasm never wavered as he got back in line and kept on trying.

 For Anthony Smith, age six, that  basket is a long way up there.
For Anthony Smith, age six, that
basket is a long way up there.

“He’s really active,” noted Anthony’s mom. “He likes all kinds of sports.”

After a half-hour of practices, the young hoopsters then put their lessons into action by playing two games. The teams are named after Big Ten and other college teams to plant an initial seed in the youngsters’ minds that college is in their futures.

The kids are put into three grade-level divisions: K-2, 1-2 beginners, and 3-4, which is reserved for kids “who know how to play a little already,” explained Pete Johnson, a longtime Minneapolis high school coach.

He, along with first-year North Head Boys Basketball Coach Michael Shelton, helped start the NABA. They and over a dozen volunteers proudly bypass sleeping in late the past few Saturdays to work with these youngsters providing them quality instruction in a safe environment on the North Side.

Michael Shelton
Pete Johnson


“It just helps build the community back up [to] where it used to be,” said Johnson.

Shelton said the program started at Jerry Gamble’s Boys and Girls Club, which he as a Northside youngster called his second home. “I was a Boys and Girls Club kid,” he recalled.

“I was in the gym every day, and then I’d go up to Farview after that. Then to Jordan Park, because they had lights and played until they called the police. That just doesn’t go on anymore. People are afraid to let their kids outside, and that is understandable.”

As a result, Shelton felt compelled to help address that problem. “Somebody did it for me when I was a kid growing up. I felt obligated to do something.”

But after two years at Gamble’s, the NABA relocated to the high school where Shelton just completed his first season. “We just outgrew Jerry Gamble’s,” said the coach-founder.

Starting children in sports as early as kindergarten should be better supported, stated Shelton. “[It] is no different for that kid at eight who’s a master pianist. They are going to go to that talent and make sure he goes into that field and plays piano with the best of the best. If we have an eight-year-old kid who’s got a talent in sports — if that kid is taught right… It’s more than sports and basketball. It’s about life skills.”

“We do charge a [$40] fee. We try to get the best deals we can as far as uniforms” and other equipment, added Shelton, whose goal is to form the NABA as a nonprofit entity.

Michael Shelton Photos by Charles  Hallman
Michael Shelton
Photos by Charles Hallman

New Minneapolis Public Schools Athletic Director Trent Tucker also was there. He told me in passing that he couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear watching these young people work at getting better. “It was very important” having him there, said Shelton.

Later this month, the NABA will hold its spring championship. “We are going to showcase the league,” said Johnson. “Everybody in the community is welcome to come.”

Shelton said he is seeking help from anyone and everyone, especially those who see the importance of positive work with youth and want to make sure this work is properly funded so it can grow and continue.

“It’s bigger than me,” he concluded.


For more information on the North Area Basketball Association, contact Michael Shelton at 612-229-7901 or email him at 


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