By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Steve MacRae has never been one to delegate responsibility when it comes to running a basketball league.
That has been a good thing over the last six years for the Newburyport Boys Basketball Association. While serving as NBBA president, MacRae has been at the forefront of the association's rapid growth and increased competitiveness among Cape Ann League programs.
MacRae oversaw his final championship weekend as president Saturday and Sunday; he will step down from his post prior to the start of next season. He coached each of his son's teams from fifth through eighth grade, and with his youngest, Cameron, now set to enroll in high school next fall, Steve will no longer have a child playing in the NBBA.
"We had a nice run," MacRae said. "It's time to pass the torch to others. I'll stay involved, but it won't be as president."
Turnover at the top of the Board of Directors is common in any youth sports league, but this change in leadership is particularly noteworthy due to MacRae's immense contributions during his tenure. Now in its 10th year of existence, the NBBA has grown from a 27 boys in its first year to 250 boys this winter.
One of MacRae's first actions as president was to add a developmental league for third- and fourth-graders to the already existing league, which included boys from fifth- to eighth-grade. There are now 80 boys in the developmental program.
"Seeing the growth of the league is the biggest highlight," MacRae said. "Seeing how many teams we have now, the in-town tournament has become a big event for the community. Our program is starting to really drive a lot of basketball players to the high school."
Each grade level between fifth and eighth grade has a travel team in the NBBA. Last weekend, the NBBA fifth-grade team was the first of any Newburyport team to win a Cape Ann League Division 1 title after finishing 17-0. The sixth-grade team won a CAL Division 2 championship. The eighth-grade team, coached by MacRae, was the runner-up in CAL Division 2.
In addition to the travel teams, there are 11 or 12 in-town teams in each of two age levels — fifth- and sixth-grade, and seventh- and eighth-grade.
Newburyport High boys basketball coach Tom L'Italien has become more involved at the youth level throughout MacRae's tenure as president, consistently leading clinics for players and coaches. L'Italien has taken his high school teams to the state tournament each of the last four years, seemingly reaping the benefits of a stronger feeder system. L'Italien coached MacRae's oldest son, Connor, for the last four years, and he will coach Cameron for the next four.
"I've had great youth directors whose sons have been on my team, and that can be tricky at times," L'Italien said. "It was never that way with Steve. He always kept the NBBA separate from Connor playing for me. He's coached a lot of the kids that have come through the high school program. He's always found a balance as a youth director, and the father of a player on my team."
MacRae was also instrumental in organizing registration and reserving court time each season. The developmental league practices and plays at the Hope Church in Newburyport. The travel and in-town teams play at the Nock Middle School and Newburyport High.
Jay Cahalane began serving as a coach and NBBA Board member five years ago. MacRae reached out to Cahalane, his neighbor, in anticipation of Cahalane's son, Charlie, joining the NBBA in future seasons. Now 10, Charlie finally joined the league this year.
"I've never seen anyone more committed to building the league and making sure the integrity is in place than Steve," Cahalane said. "The countless hours he's committed to the growth is unbelievable. One of his faults is he doesn't delegate. He takes it all on himself, and he does a phenomenal job."
The NBBA Board will decide on its next president in the coming months. L'Italien said the next director will "have big shoes to fill."
"One of the things coaches like to do is leave a place better than when we first got there," L'Italien said. "There's no question Steve is leaving the league in a much better position than when he took over. His vision has made the Newburyport basketball experience special, from the developmental league all the way through high school."