Logan Lisewski sat on her mother’s lap, her wide eyes glued to the action on the basketball court.
The “big girls” were running up and down the court, passing and dribbling, just like she’d been learning to do for seven weeks.
She watched as Brianne Allender pulled up at the 3-point line and calmly sent the ball flying. As it swished through the net, Logan -- and the rest of the kindergartners and their families -- cheered.
“She always talks about the big girls,” her mother, Tracey, said, as Logan shyly smiled.
The “big girls” are the members of the Central Regional girls basketball team. Almost every Saturday morning from mid-December through February, the members of John Truhan’s varsity squad trundle in to the Central Regional Middle School gym a little before 8:30 a.m., where they are greeted by about 30 giggling, squirming kids.
For an hour, they’ll teach them to dribble and pass, and most importantly, to have fun.
But there’s a greater motivation to Truhan’s effort to bring his players and the little kids together: Bonding, both among his players and between his team and the community at large. And it lays the groundwork for future teams.
“It gets them (the kids) interested in basketball at an early age,” said Truhan, who has been the Golden Eagles’ coach for five years. “It worked at Toms River South and it worked at Colts Neck,” where he coached prior to coming to Central.
At Toms River South, where he coached from 1998-2003, the Indians had back-to-back 22-win seasons and reached the Group III championship game in 2001. At Colts Neck, he coached the Cougars to a 28-2 record and the Shore Conference Tournament title in 2008 -- the first public school to win the girls SCT title since 1989 -- and followed that up with a trip to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final in 2009.
It’s the kind of success he envisions for Central, which has reached the second round of the state playoffs the last two seasons.
On this evening, however, Truhan is interested in having the girls show the little ones what a game looks like. A 3-pointer by Katelyn Kuster drops in and draws a rousing cheer, and little fingers point to the court as the youngsters point to their favorite players.
“Number 12,” said Justin Brounstein, 5, indicating Allender, a senior and one of Central’s captains, as his favorite.
“They get all the kids involved,” said Justin’s father, Brett. “It’s good for them to see the girls playing.”
The kindergartners have been involved from start to finish this night in Central’s 62-28 victory over Jackson Liberty High School, joining the players on the court for the national anthem and player introductions, then packing into the locker room, where Truhan switched up his usual halftime speech.
“Did everybody get enough candy?” he said, as the little faces lit up.
Logan Lisewski smiled as she sat on the lap of Theresa Blumberg, her favorite among the Central players.
“She always picked me,” said Blumberg, a senior. “It’s a great feeling to be involved with them.”
Blumberg, the fifth of six children, said she also enjoys being the “big sister.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a role model,” she said. “They listen to you. They’re adorable.”
“It’s nice to see them look up to us,” Allender said. “Seeing how happy they are is just a good feeling.”
“They begin to realize they’ve become instant role models,” Truhan said. “They see that the community looks at them as something for their children to become (in the future).”
“To see girls at this age doing what she does, it gives her something to look forward to,” Tracey Lisewski said. Her husband, Chris, agreed.
“It’s good for her to see females can do as good in some sports,” Chris Lisewski said.
As Central’s lead grew, some of the more brave children snuck over to the court from the stands, sitting along the sideline at the end of the row of players’ chairs, closer to the action and closer to the girls, who patiently answered questions and laughed as the little ones got their attention.
And everyone got to see their favorite among the “big girls” get some action.
“There she is,” Tracey said to Logan, as Blumberg entered the game, then added to Central’s lead with a basket.
“It’s such a great experience for them,” Tracey Lisewski said.
When the final buzzer sounded, the kindergartners hopped into line behind the Central players to shake hands, and drew smiles even from the Jackson Liberty players, who obliged them by responding by gently slapping hands. Then the Eagles and their diminiutive “teammates” gathered at center court for the final words from the coach.
“Did everyone have fun?” he asked, with ear-to-ear smiles as his answer. He said a few more words, and then it was time to go.
“Everybody, hands in. Defense on three,” he said.
“One! Two! Three! DEFENSE!” they said, little voices joining the big girls, together as one.