A Partnership with a Local Semi-Pro Basketball Team Underscores the Community Spirit of the YMCA

A little-known fact about the Witham Family YMCA is that, from time to time, Leprechauns play in the gym. That is, members of the Lebanon Leprechauns basketball team get in a little practice time at the Y.

Rebecca McVay, Marketing Director for the YMCA sat down with Preston Myers, the team president, at a recent game against the Medora Timberjacks. “There are 44 teams all over the country in our league,” he shares, while the action takes place in the Jim Rosenstihl Gymnasium. “There are 12 in the Midwest. We are currently sitting in second place.”

As he speaks, there is a break in the game. The mascot, Lucky, struts out onto the court in a bright green suit and top hat toward a sign displaying the Medora Timberjacks’ logo. Preston explains this activity as the ceremonial welcome. “Lucky dances around the logo and tips his hat and everything.” Preston smiles, “But then he takes his walking stick and starts hitting it.” The audience looks on as the opposing team is “destroyed” in this manner. The games are full of playful antics.

YMCA to the Rescue of Leprechauns

Though the Lebanon Leprechauns have been around for five years, they were announced this past September as an official team. All along, Preston Myers had a dream of forming a semi-pro team. From last fall to this February, Preston had been watching film, dealing with agents and coaches, and hiring all the staff for the team, all in an effort to make his vision a reality. Everything was in place, including a location for the team members to stay in shape.

“The first thing we did with the Y was that we made the partnership for the membership,” Preston says. The Witham Family YMCA Executive Director, Kim Newnam, says that she and Preston started talking about what the community fitness center could do.

According to Kim, from the start, the Y staff has hoped for the success of the team, because their success is a community success.

“Also I think it inspires young players that there are more options out there besides the NBA,” she continues. This gives them the idea that they can still be a professional, still play, make money, do what they love to do.”

In the midst of these discussions with the Y, tryouts were scheduled for December 11, 2021. Preston remembers: “We had 50 players from all over the country fly in because they heard ‘Oh these Leprechauns are the real deal.’” The high school gym was not available that day. “The Y stepped up immediately and helped us out,” Preston says.

The Lebanon Leprechauns in action against the Medora Timberjacks

Connecting a Team and its Fans

The tryouts were a success, resulting in a cohort of high-level players. Most of the team has played in college leagues, on professional teams, or even overseas. “This is a really prestigious league,” Preston confirms of the Leprechauns. “We’ve got the NBA, the NBA-affiliated G league – which is where a couple of my guys came from – and then there’s us.”

Some players are local, with a portion coming just out of college. Among the players is Josh Thompson, a Ball State graduate. His teammate, Joshua Caldwell, recently returned home to Indianapolis from Qatar where he had served in the military. Another player is Marcus Fuggins, or “Big Fudge.” Fuggins is an upbeat and animated character, a favorite of all who know him. The Big Fudge fan club from the high school watches from the stands as Preston explains that the player is a stand-up comedian. Big Fudge recently performed at Helium Comedy Club in Indianapolis. But he loves to play basketball and his girlfriend comes to all the games.

“They’re high-quality character guys,” Preston says of his team. “I worked really hard on that: to have a team of guys I could be proud of, win or lose. It doesn’t work if it’s a bad fit for the community. If it’s guys who are unwilling to take those fan pictures, who are unwilling to take selfies with six-year-olds…. I want you to be a great player, but I want you to be a great community person.”

And that’s the foundation of the partnership with the Y. According to Preston, the YMCA has been a great platform from which he can “talk Leprechauns.” A lot of the fans are Y members. Preston told Kim that they not only wanted a great facility with a court and free weights, but also a place to see the people. The YMCA is one more connection between the team and its fans.

More for Your Money

Preston notices a group of Leprechaun fans on the other side of the court. He comments that they have taken it upon themselves to buy seemingly every cowbell in Boone County, which they are now ringing with gusto. He adds that the crowd is usually about 1,200 strong, and they have had as many as 2,500 people in the stands. When that happens, Preston says, “It’s louder and more intense than most Pacers games.” And the Leprechauns are getting almost half of the attendance of the professional team. “You can go to a Pacer’s game, and have a good time,” Preston admits. But, he argues that fans are also going to shell out a hundred dollars by the time they purchase tickets, go to dinner, buy snacks at the game and pay for parking. All of that, yet with no connection to the players.

“Every single person in this place will come down at the end of the game and shake everyone’s hand,” he says, proudly.

That personal connection, that safe space for families and individuals of all ages, is just what the Witham Family YMCA is all about. You can go to any gym and work out. The Y is set apart by all the benefits above and beyond the wellness center: chronic disease prevention programs, childcare, personal training, swim lessons, and more. And all these in addition to equipment qualified for the use of a semi-pro basketball team. But at the end of the day, at the YMCA, the people know you by name.

And if you join the Y, you just might meet a Leprechaun.

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You can catch the next home game Friday, June 3 at Lebanon High School. You can check out membership at https://indymca.org/join-now or email questions to Ann Kincaid at akincaid@indymca.org.