People scoffed last year at the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference preseason coaches' meeting when Patuxent girls' basketball coach John McGuffin proposed the idea of having a freshman team.
"It was pretty much, 'Are you crazy?' " McGuffin remembered. "A lot of coaches said they barely had enough girls for JV."
This year, first-year Westlake coach Sean Anderson proposed the idea. McGuffin remained the only other SMAC coach in favor of implementing a freshman program. But one kindred spirit was enough to get it rolling.
Patuxent was scheduled to host Westlake on Wednesday in the league's first girls' triple-header, with the freshman teams playing at 4, junior varsity at 5:30 and varsity at 7. It was the first of four scheduled games the two freshman teams have against each other. St. Mary's Ryken also is on each team's schedule, and Patuxent has lined up two games with Mount Zion Baptist Christian in Baltimore.
Both teams are searching for more opponents from various private schools or even inexperienced junior varsity teams. The state allows junior varsity and freshman girls' teams to play a maximum of 22 games.
"It's only eight games right now, but it's a start," McGuffin said. "It's going to be slow in building, but I think it's already benefiting us. I've got a lot of positive feedback from parents, because freshmen who normally would have gotten cut will play some games and gain experience. This is a way to keep as many girls involved as possible, and that's how you build a program."
It has worked on the boys' side. Northern Coach Rick Weber, whom McGuffin assisted before transferring to Patuxent, started the area's first boys' freshman program before the 1995-96 season. Weber said his freshman team played eight or nine games its first season, mostly against private schools.
Now Calvert, La Plata, Lackey, McDonough, Patuxent, Thomas Stone and Westlake have added boys' freshman teams, allowing them to play a modified SMAC schedule.
Weber said he had so many kids try out this year (about 60) that he was able to keep his junior varsity team almost exclusively sophomores, while grouping the freshmen together and keeping the upperclassmen on varsity.
"The main thing is you just get more kids involved," Weber said. "It's so hard to make a judgment at that age if a player is going to be good or not in two years. Is a kid going to grow taller? Is an already tall kid going to become more comfortable with that size? It's really hard to know.
"So having a freshman team allows you to keep more kids involved and gives them time to develop within the program. And the more kids you're feeding into your program, the more likely you are to come up with kids who can help you down the road."
The additional teams make it more difficult for schools to juggle practice times and facilities, but McGuffin and Weber agreed there is a way to make it work.
"It's tough because sometimes kids have to practice until 9 or 9:30 at night, and that wears on you," Weber said. "And often the freshman and JV teams have to practice together, so you're talking about 24 kids in the gym at one time who probably need the most attention . . . but they work with it.
"We definitely think it's been worthwhile, and I'm sure the girls' teams will find that, too."