It had all the hoopla of a hoops spectacle.

Eight middle school basketball teams, each with an automatic berth in a Final Four, showed up determined to win. Boys and girls titles were on the line.

Beattie from Highland, plus Cope, Clement and Moore from Redlands, forming the Redlands Students Connection League, is a brainchild of the district’s athletic director, Pat Hafley.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” said the onetime Redlands-area athlete, “but everything went well.”

All anyone had to do was look around at Redlands East Valley High.

“ASB had their snack bar set up,” noted Hafley, mid-morning on June 3, a few days after an 8-game basketball season and tournament had just concluded.

“Vocal groups were singing the National Anthem. Parents had their chairs all set up. Transportation did its part to get everyone there.”

If it seems like basketball season ⎯ colleges and high schools in particular ⎯ had long since passed, consider that on the same day those four middle school games were being played at REV, Golden State was playing at Toronto in game 1 of the NBA Championship series. Out of season? No chance.

Said Hafley: “We’re trying to get a connection going between the kids, their parents and people in the school system.”

That Clement Middle School, located over on Pennsylvania Avenue in the city’s north side, swept both boys and girls basketball titles, was only part of the story.

It was Beattie’s boys, which split two regular season games with Clement, that reached the finals.

Vikings’ coach Jeff Boyd went with a starting five ⎯ guards Gabriel Azhocar and Michael Counce, forwards Jeremiah Claiborne and Jalen Fultz, plus center Asher Shaw ⎯ to notch the first-ever boys’ title.

Beattie coach Ted Perkins countered with four eighth graders ⎯ Tyler Mermilliod, Quintin Butler, Hanna Jaden and Brockton Lium ⎯ and seventh-grader Little-Kong Novaiah

Boyd, incidentally, doubles as Citrus Valley High’s freshman football coach.

“I’ve been pushing for middle school athletics for a long time,” said Boyd. “The kids need to be familiar with the process of school athletics when they get to high school.”

All of this coming at a time when school districts are cutting budgets. Often times, it starts with athletics.

Taylor Katz coached Clement’s girls to a title using the Singer sisters, Amiya and Anaya, plus Leah Kibrom, Daisy Jackson and Erin Patrimonio, in its starting lineup.

Imagine the numbers: Two teams, male and female squads, from all four campuses, just in soccer alone. Basketball followed soccer.

Said Hafley: “Every roster had sixth, seventh and eighth graders.”

Hafley’s looking to connect Loma Linda with Mentone, San Bernardino with East Highlands, not to mention Redlands. Students come from each of those communities.

“Some of these kids,” said Hafley, “have never been inside a gymnasium before. It was a cool set-up.”

Boys and girls volleyball is this fall, followed by boys and girls softball, capped by soccer and basketball. Eight-game schedules, a final four tournament will be held for each sport.

“There were no hurdles to clear,” said Hafley, “just lots to do.”

Athletes needed academic clearance, plus medical clearance ⎯ same as high schoolers ⎯ in order to participate.

There were some issues, said Boyd. “Behavioral problems, that had to be dealt with. I had to make some adjustments.”

It’s part of the process in grooming middle school athletes for the high school ranks.

Said Boyd: “A lot of our kids play club basketball, or they’re on (traveling) soccer or baseball teams with no school connections.”

Now, he said, “they have to be accountable. The traveling, the practices after school and there are expectations … for behavior and in the classroom.”

Back in March at Hodges Stadium, located at Citrus Valley High, Moore’s boys outdueled Beattie in a penalty kick championship showdown.

Beattie’s girls, meanwhile, tamed Moore in the finals, completing their first cycle of games in Hafley’s coordinated RSCL.

“We’ll have one sport for each quarter,” said Hafley.

The school year is set up into four 9-week quarters.

Up next was basketball.

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