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The Home Team: Cheering for hometown heroes ... again

Summer after summer after summer we went. Hauling the folding chairs and the bug spray and the cooler of drinks down to the blacktop basketball courts at Compo Beach. First to watch Matt and his grade-school friends in their Beach Camp performances -- almost always an elaborately choreographed line dance accompanied by a loud rock 'n' roll number crackling out of somebody's beat-up boom box, led by animated Staples-kids-as-counselors trying to keep the little ones in line. A few years later, the same deal, with Greg. Then, both boys in their rec league basketball games. And quite a few years later, it was Robby and his gang -- this time around with his older brothers and their buddies as the counselors.

When Robby finished his youth rec league days, Carol and I assumed our days as denizens of the Compo Beach basketball courts were over. We assumed wrong.

These days our youngest son is playing in the Adult Men's Summer Basketball League, as it's billed online -- or just "Beach Basketball," as we call it in our house. Robby knows I'm a sucker for all my sons' sports, no matter how old the boys get. (I once drove to Westchester for one of Greg's Pepsi League softball games -- and was the only "fan" there.) So when he mentioned that beach hoops was "pretty good basketball," that's all I needed to hear.

And pretty good basketball is putting it mildly. It may not rival the Rucker Playground league in Harlem or the Venice Beach Basketball league in L.A. -- but on my son's team alone they have the former D-III college player of the year, who now plays professionally in Spain; the captain of the Grinnell Pioneers, one of the highest-scoring teams in college hoops, and the captain of the 2009 Staples Wreckers basketball team. And this same level of talent is sprinkled liberally all over the league.

Are the dudes serious? Well, let's put it this way. This past week, after an exceptionally hard-fought game with tons of lead changes, a player on the losing side lashed out at his teammates furiously for joking around with the opposition following the game. To him, this was no laughing matter.

For the first few weeks of the season, the crowds were not what I expected -- just some stray parents and siblings, and the occasional hard-core basketball junky. But this week, attendance started to pick up -- girlfriends, younger kids, beach walkers -- and I imagine that by the time the playoffs roll around in August, the place will be jumping. If warm summer nights at the beach and the screech of sneakers and grown men -- who you used to know as little kids -- playing basketball under the lights is your thing, then this is the place to be.

Carol and I don't only sense the beach and smell the bug spray as we make our way from the parking lot to the courts. We also get a strong whiff of nostalgia. Isn't that Chris, our son's friend since kindergarten, with the shoulder-length hair and the beard? Isn't that little Gabe, now 6-foot-3 and dunking?

In the second half of this week's game, my son drove to the hoop for a reverse layup, drawing some oohs and aahs. Pretty cool. Nothing, though, compared to the time he solo lip-synced Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Close My Eyes" as a 6-year-old, with his older brothers coaching proudly from the wings.

Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/. To reach Hank, email him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.

Hank Herman

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