Aiming High With Knee-Hi
Knee-Hi Basketball is back for another season in Fulton. My grandson is playing again and I’m looking forward to watching a few of his games. First, I’ll need to find a parking spot at the War Memorial, where Knee-Hi takes place, and that’s always a challenge. Every Saturday from December through March, there are games going from 8 am until 8 pm. Knee Hi Director, Sean Broderick, told me that about 450 kids are signed up for this season and with two games being played concurrently, that’s a lot of moms, dads, aunts, uncles and grandparents filling the bleachers.
I’ve known about Knee-Hi since my son was on a team twenty years ago, but its history goes back even further. Thousands of kids have been involved and some of them become a coach when their children were old enough to participate. Every coach that participates in the program – and Sean expects about 60 this year – are volunteers. Last year was my grandson’s first year and his coach, Mikayla Kemp, told me that she’s been involved with Knee-Hi since she was a youngster:
"Fulton Knee-Hi Basketball has been a vital part of my life for the past 20 years. I started playing in kindergarten and what began as a fun way to socialize and follow in my older brother's footsteps turned into a love for the game and an opportunity to learn some very valuable life lessons.”
Mikayla reflected on those lessons: “Knee High has always centered on inclusiveness and fun, offering the youth of Fulton the amazing opportunity to be active in a sport they enjoy without the fear of being rejected or feeling unwelcome. This is a large part of the reason I've decided to stay involved with the program as an adult, coaching my son with the intent to progress with him as he ages. I can only hope to be a coach that offers as much fun, excitement, and commitment to the program as my father did while coaching me as a child.”
Hundreds of Fulton parents have been Knee-Hi coaches and many who participated in the past will tell you that the success of the program is largely due to Jerry Schremp, the program’s coordinator for decades. I got to learn about Jerry’s love of basketball and how he’s shared it with our young people when he agreed to tell his story for The Fulton Library’s Memoir Project. Here’s how Jerry remembered getting started with Fulton sports:
“I was the ball boy for Carm Vescio’s All Stars, a semipro basketball team, when I was in fifth grade. When I got a little older, I played for Holy Family in the Catholic basketball league. Nunzi Fichera coached basketball for Holy Family School and we would practice at the War Memorial. I have a lot of great memories of Nunzi.”
Jerry never forgot the way Nunzi helped him and other kids. When he was in high school, Jerry became a playground director for the city’s summer parks program, and he developed fun things for the kids to do, including plenty of sports. Then, through his own children, Jerry got involved with Knee-Hi:
“Knee-Hi started as a Fulton youth program, with the city funding it with $600 a year from New York State. Tony Iamaio ran it for 3rd through 6th grade boys and they meet twice a week over at the War Memorial to go through some drills. On Saturdays, he would create teams and they’d play against each other. Terry Acome also helped and he was able to double the number of kids who participated.
“When my son was in kindergarten, I got him into Knee-Hi. After about a year, Terry said he wasn’t going to be able to run the program any longer and was looking for someone to put more time in. I raised my hand, and the next thing I knew, I was the volunteer director. It was kind of neat to come back and run the Knee-Hi program at the War Memorial, after spending so much time there as a kid.”
Jerry ended up giving his heart and soul to that program. As Sean told me, the Knee-Hi program is really special for the city of Fulton. “First, the city lets us use the War Memorial, which is a tremendous facility to coordinate such a large program. Second, we have the best volunteers, who believe in the goals of Knee-Hi: treating everyone on the team fairly and being a good role model for how to act on and off the court.”
Sean gives a lot of the credit for the program’s success to Jerry Schremp. “Before Jerry took it over, Knee-Hi was for boys only. He started bringing in girls to play and also reaching out beyond the city limits to bring in youth from other towns. My son had the chance to interact with his peers from other schools in Fulton and from other school districts, and some have remained his friends over the years.”
Sean and I ran some numbers and determined that in the many years Jerry ran Knee-Hi basketball he was a positive influence on over 6,000 kids. Having watched my own son go through the program and now my grandson, I can attest that not only were all those children learning the fundamentals of a sport, but also guidelines for a good life: cooperation, working hard, taking a chance on life and cheering for one other, no matter who is winning. A lot of Fultonians are lucky to have learned those lessons because of people like Jerry Schremp.
Jerry Schremp, on the court refereeing, one of the many ways he contributed to Fulton's Knee-Hi Basketball Program for decades.