Participants and coaches in Future Trojans took part in a basketball camp held last week at Mount Desert Island High School. Students from second through fifth grade met in the mornings. PHOTO COURTESY OF JUSTIN NORWOOD

Youth athletics thriving with Acadian Youth Sports

BAR HARBOR — Justin Norwood usually supervises a dozen or so players in Bunny Parady Gymnasium. Last Monday, he had to keep track of 85.

Norwood, the coach of the Mount Desert Island High School varsity boys’ basketball team, led the recent Future Trojans program at MDI High School. The weeklong program gave athletes as young as second grade the opportunity to develop skills, learn from MDI coaches and varsity players and, of course, play basketball.

“It was a great chance to give kids an opportunity to play to come together,” Norwood said. “You’re always looking to provide those chances, and this is one of those things we do. … We got what I think was the highest turnout I can remember.”

Future Trojans is just one of many opportunities available through the island’s umbrella youth athletics organization, Acadian Youth Sports. Now nearing its fourth year of existence, Acadian Youth Sports is providing more opportunities than ever for young athletes to get involved.

Acadian Youth Sports began in 2014 in an effort to bring the Acadian Football League, Acadian Basketball Association and Acadian Little League into one organization. That helped to bring kids from different sports under one umbrella to create an even more cohesive, established youth athletics environment.

“We’ve had leagues like AFL and the Little League for about 20-25 years now, and those programs have really helped kids at the youth level,” Executive Director Kyle McKim said. “We decided to take those programs and put them under one umbrella as Acadian Youth Sports, and it’s been a great way to get kids involved and active across all fronts.”

Those entering sixth through ninth had an afternoon session. Players on the MDI boys’ and girls’ varsity teams help lead the camp, which is organized by Acadian Youth Sports. PHOTO COURTESY OF KYLE MCKIM

Through the new organization, kids at MDI begin playing organized sports from the time they reach the second or third grade. From there, they gain several years of experience playing multiple sports and have developed many of the skills they need to succeed before they reach the high school level.

One of the biggest dividends Acadian Youth Sports leagues have paid over the years has been bringing together athletes from all parts of the island. In that regard, high school coaches such as head girls’ basketball coach Brent Barker have noticed a major difference.

“I think if you look at it compared to 25 years or so ago, it’s been a huge boost,” Barker said. “Before the leagues now in AYS came around, kids from different schools and towns didn’t have the same chance to play with each other and mesh together until later. Now we’re seeing that meshing happen at a younger age.”

This summer, Acadian Little League All-Stars won the 11-12 softball championship for District 1 to clinch the state tournament in Machias. At the state tournament, the Acadian team put together an excellent showing with narrow losses to York Little League and Bangor Little League, which faced one another for the championship.

In baseball, the Acadian All-Star team followed up a solid performance at the District 1 tournament with a 3-0 weekend at a round-robin tournament July 7-8 in Oakland. The tournament gave players the chance to play at Oakland’s Little Fenway Park and Little Wrigley Field, two of the state’s premier Little League facilities.

“It was a great experience for them and gave them the opportunity to play against some new teams,” said Eric Ankrom, one of the team’s three coaches. “We’re always looking to give the kids a chance to play, get better and have fun as much as they can, and AYS helps to make that possible.”

Many athletes in Acadian Youth Sports are involved in more than one sport. That creates a lasting framework for teams that are built to last and players who are successful in a variety of different sporting environments.

“Some of the boys play AYS football, AYS basketball, AYS Little League and juniors baseball,” Ankrom said. “They all play two or more of these programs. The AYS programs are great for the boys to improve their skills to get them ready to move up to the high school level.”

In addition to the programs brought together under the Acadian Youth Sports banner, the league also has added competition cheer and golf programs. The latter began two new initiatives, Acadian Youth Sports Driving Range and Acadian Youth Sports Junior Golf, this spring.

With involvement in Acadian Youth Sports soaring, the program is set to provide a strong foundation for island sports in the years to come. More initiatives are always on the way, and through collaborative efforts between AYS and high school parents, coaches, players and administrators, MDI’s future looks just as bright as the present.

“At the end of the day, I think this a community that puts a lot of resources into its youth athletes and shows an interest in seeing them succeed,” McKim said. “What we’ve done at AYS is a product of the volunteers, coaches, parents and the kids who play that we’re able to have the success we do, and I can’t thank everybody enough.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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