While Portsmouth is well-known for its football club, the city also has a basketball academy that does a lot for the community. Community Reporter Paris Ali-Pilling interviewed Rob Milner, chairman of the club, about challenges such as funding shortages due to Covid-19.
Portsmouth has had a basketball team for decades, ‘We were the best team in the country in the 80s and won the league in 1988,’ says Rob. Early on, the club was focused on adult basketball, but in the last five years has developed its youth structure. ‘Now about 150 kids a week are playing basketball,’ says Rob. ‘[We’re] very community driven.’ A not-for-profit organisation, the Portsmouth College Basketball Academy (PCBA) works with the local community and all their coaches are volunteers from the area.
Both my boys have been playing for the club since they were small and have learnt so much. We cant believe they finally have the chance to show off all they have learnt in the National League. The whole family is excited.
Becki, Harry & Charlie’s mum
To encourage young people to get into the sport, the PCBA’s coaches go into schools and offer free sessions through the Pompey in the Community initiative. ‘One of our real key [goals] is to not be overpriced,’ says Rob. ‘All our sessions are under five pounds. We’ve had contact from different counsellors and different people who have said, “this child is from a lower income family can you let this child in” and we do that.’ One of the club’s main objectives is to attract the younger generation to a sport that isn’t popular in Portsmouth and to ‘give [kids] some sort of direction. It really is important, and sports is the perfect avenue for it.’ ‘I can’t think of many sports that are cheaper to pick up,’ he says. ‘You just need a bouncy ball.’ While the council have been helpful, he would ‘love them to spend a little bit more money on some of the courts around the city and invest in infrastructure.’ One of Rob’s coaches, Craig Hughes, is currently leading a project with Portsmouth City Council to redevelop the outdoor basketball court at Orchard Park into a free venue.
I joined Portsmouth basketball when I was about 11 after enjoying it as a hobby. I love the intense coaching and that I’m pushed to get the best out of myself. The coaching I get is amazing and my confidence has grown through support from the club. I would highly recommend it I am excited to come every week for training.
They had teams entered into the National League for the 2020-2021 season, for the first time since the 1980s. But when the pandemic struck the season was cancelled. ‘We literally could not play sport,’ says Rob. ‘We’re not like rugby, football or cricket, where you can play outside. The restrictions were eased early, but our restrictions lasted all the way until April/May of this year. We’re an indoor sport [and] were considered an incubator of Covid. We were massively affected, and we’re still recovering.’
While the PCBA has never had a problem recruiting for the boys’ youth teams, they are ‘trying to target as many girls as we can, we’re doing free basketball over the summer for girls, to try and get them in,’ says Rob. Prior to the pandemic, the club was going to set up ‘a girls’ team, but because of Covid they disappeared and never came back.’
Lois (8) really loves all the games and fun activities on a Sunday. She’s been playing since she was 3 year[s] old. The coaches are really engaging and the kids all seem to love playing for them.
Kelly, Lois’ mum
It’s not just female players that the club is short of. The PCBA lacks the funds for travel to away games in cities like Southampton, Worthing, Winchester and Salisbury. Each trip can cost £200-400 and includes the price of hiring coaches and officials. ‘Because basketball’s not as popular as other sports, it’s not just as easy as grabbing a parent and saying, ‘can you keep score?’ says Rob. ‘They have to be qualified and DBS checked, and someone has to process all this and all of that costs money.’ Kits add to the bill, which is why the club is looking for sponsorship. ‘What we’re looking for is someone to say, “You know what, I’d love to put my name on the kits or have a banner up at the home games.”’ Such a deal would allow the PCBA to keep playing league basketball, reduce the cost of training sessions for their youth team, continue working with the community and encourage even more young people to engage with the sport.
Rob’s big wish is to repeat the club’s successes of the 1980s. He wants to see Portsmouth field another adult team that the younger generation can be proud of. ‘We’re in talks with Ravelin Park, which is a new university development to hopefully use their sports hall as a home stage. People can come along, pay a pound or two and watch a proper basketball game in the city.’ This, he believes, would create a much-needed fan culture around the club, which can only be another positive for Portsmouth.
Rob urges anyone interested in donating to get in touch. His plan is to have advertising billboards up at the National League games. ‘It’s £10 to pay for a table official on a game up to £600-£700 for a season’s kit. I hate cliches but there really is no donation too small’.
If you want to find out more about PCBA head over to their Facebook page here.
If you would like to donate to or sponsor Portsmouth College Basketball Academy get in contact with Rob Milner via: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone number: 07776 175271.
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