With middle school basketball seasons winding down, or finished, and the high school court campaigns getting closer to playoff time, players and parents are starting to look for the next step. Many children will end up playing on travel teams, in local leagues and tournaments.

For perhaps the most dedicated, there is the Amateur Athletic Union.

In 2007, Ron Hawkes of Rockland founded the Rockland Travel Team Club for girls. The team, which became the Midcoast Warriors basketball club, eventually registered as an AAU club after the travel season.

Looking to create opportunities for girls to become better athletes by playing more games against quality opponents, Hawkes started his club with one team that he and other coaches took statewide. Since then, each year a team has been added to the Warriors club.

Many girls in the area have benefited from these opportunities, including varsity players in the local high schools who still play or have played on one of the Midcoast Warriors teams.

The AAU teams have attracted the top players from high schools and middle schools in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties. Also, last year’s 16-and-younger team performed well at the state championship and at a major tournament in Massachusetts.

Van der Schaaf said playing AAU basketball is not for everyone. He said teams generally practice twice a week, and they often play four games every weekend. Because they play their games all over the state, it involves a significant time commitment from players and parents.

“On the plus side, many of the players form lasting friendships with their teammates from different schools,” he said, “and the quality practice with other committed players and the high number of games against strong opposition provides learning and experience that is not easily found elsewhere.“

“Last year, my daughter played in 25 games with her Warriors team,” Van der Schaaf said, quoting a parent of a player involved with the club. “During the season, she noticeably improved her game, not just because of practice, but because she was dealing with bigger and stronger players every week, and she had to play up to keep up.”

The Warriors expect to have five teams for the 2011 season, with players from at least six middle schools and five high schools in the region. However, the Warriors coaches do not talk to players during their school seasons even though they do watch games to find players they would like to play on their teams.

For more information, go online at info@mcwarriors.org.

Ben van der Schaaf is president of the Midcoast Warriors club.