Image: 5th Grade Gym Rats 2025 team
Written by Larry Whitt
Summer basketball traditions in Indiana date back over one hundred years, and for those who feel that passion, it is just as strong today as it was then.
Just a few short years ago, a parent wanting to pass the love of basketball to their child meant spending long hours working one-on one with the child in the driveway, alley, local YMCA, or in the park. But today, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program has grown to world-wide proportions, enabling kids as young as seven years old through high school to be involved and develop skills that can carry them throughout their life.
So many of the children who participate in basketball imagine they will be a star one day and, for a select few, that is true. Some of these kids will earn scholarships to college and will receive a great education.
This brings us to Gym Rats Incorporated; the organization begun in Fort Wayne by the late Bill Hensley whose vision gave children a great setting for top competition from across the nation. Over the years it has grown to include over 8,000 teams playing in tournaments and leagues, and participating in camps.
Gym Rats now provides an avenue for immense exposure for players nationally and continent wide, bringing in some of the best players in the country and just outside of it, recently attracting teams from Canada.
High profile coaches are always represented as they are looking to find that child with great potential early on. These opportunities can motivate a child to work hard and improve, not only as an athlete, but socially and academically as well. The coaches and parents involved in the program emphasize the development of the body and mind together. Opportunities like scholarships are earned by athletes who also have high academic achievement, so this is an important habit for participants to learn.
Gym Rats sponsor over 30 teams locally, like 7th Grade Gym Rats 2023 and 5th Grade Gym Rats 2025. Both talented teams have already won a few tournaments. There are several other teams, sponsored by their coaches, parents, friends of the family plus other organizations, that provide an entry for at-risk kids into this environment.
One such team is Character & Skills, a 9th grade team coached by Ephraim Smiley. Mr. Smiley played college basketball at Taylor University and has been involved with youth basketball since 2008. Character & Skills stated mission is: We strive for excellence on the court, in the classroom, at home and in the community.
Autopilots, another team, is the brainchild of close friends J.T Langston and Zane Forte who have long discussed going into business together. Forte now owns his own shoe brand, Fresh Outt Da Box, and sponsored shoes and uniforms for the team, among other things. Langston, who won a high school state title at Harding, supplies the hard work of mentoring and coaching for two teams, 7th and 9th grade entries. Langston feels the kids are our future. His motto: If we are not for them, who will be? With three sons in the mix, Langston is in it for the long haul.
Gym Rats has set a fabulous table for their young athletes. Let us take advantage of it by giving support and encouragement to our future generations.
Gym Rats Basketball, out of the Sport One Fieldhouse, 3946 Ice Way, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46806, can also be found online at GymRatsBasketball.com.