Saturday wasn't just opening day for the I-40 basketball league; it was also the first day that many of the middle school Phantoms had ever played competitive basketball.
The I-40 league includes Parks, Ash Fork and Seligman with all teams traveling to one hosting school each weekend to play four games with two of their three league opponents.
This week, Grand Canyon faced Parks and Ash Fork. The A team lost 62-10 against Parks and 31-14 against Ash Fork. The B team lost 24-6 vs Parks and 14-9 vs Ash Fork.
Though the A team generally includes the older and more experienced players, Grand Canyon has no eighth graders and only one seventh grader with experience on the court. There are also three sixth graders who played as fifth graders last year. There are 10 players between the two teams with five more possibly to join.
"The problem we're running into is that there are only four eighth graders on the team and none of those are returning players," said Dale Kissner, who co-coaches the team with Brett Flanagan. "For most of them it was the first time they'd ever been on the court in a real game."
Kissner said that by the fourth game they were much improved, with the B team losing by only five while holding Ash Fork to 15. Scrappy performances by Jonathan Huff, Shawn Harris and Patrick Shields helped keep Grand Canyon in the game.
"There was improvement from the first game to the fourth," Kissner said.
Quick learning will be the key for the short middle school basketball season, which wraps up with tourneys on Feb. 24 and 25. The middle school Phantoms play at Ash Fork on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Grand Canyon on Feb. 4 and at Parks on Feb. 18.