Get ready to put your game face on: The fourth annual Maui Jim Maui Classic, an NCAA Division I women’s college basketball tournament, tips off on Wednesday, Dec 18 and Thursday, Dec. 19 at the Lahaina Civic Center. The action-packed two-day tournament is hosted by basketballMAUI in partnership with the Oregon State women’s basketball team, which was ranked No. 6 in this year’s pre-season national rankings.

It’s something Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) member Matt Tarasenko of PMI Maui has been looking forward to all year. “It’s a high level of skilled basketball and it’s always a lot of fun,” he said.

Tarasenko joined the basketballMAUI board of directors four years ago after volunteering at the nonprofit’s annual summer camp for island youth, which focuses on basketball skills and character and leadership development. “Seeing the positive effects the camp had not only on my kids, but also on others, inspired me to become more involved,” he said.

Earlier this year, basketballMAUI came under the umbrella of a newly minted nonprofit organization, Vertical Sports Maui, which recently hosted the first-ever baseballMAUI day camp featuring guest coaches Brandon Dixon and Daniel Norris from the Detroit Tigers, and Brandon Bantz from the LA Dodgers Training Academy. “Our mission is to use sports to inspire and equip youth,” Tarasenko said. “Our goal is to expand to other sports as well, including soccer, football, skateboarding and surfing, to name a few.”

Growing up, Tarasenko says sports taught him invaluable and enduring life lessons. Apart from physical fitness, he said, “Learning to be a team player, leadership skills, character development and building friendships are all benefits of playing sports.” In his role as a board member, he has seen firsthand the game-changing impacts of the nonprofit’s programs. “When we launched Vertical Sports Maui, we were able to hear from individuals who participated in basketballMAUI since its inception 10 years ago… hearing how basketballMAUI has affected their lives is inspiring,” he said.

And the best part? No child will ever be excluded from any Vertical Sports Maui program for lack of financial resources. “One of the things that we have made a priority is that all of our programs are available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay for them,” Tarasenko said.

Tickets are still available for the Maui Jim Maui Classic, which is a fundraiser for basketballMAUI. There will be two games on each day, along with food trucks, live music by ukulele virtuoso Derick Sebastian, and ample opportunities to win prizes. Here’s the lineup: On Wednesday, Dec. 18, the Brigham Young Cougars will face off against the San Jose State Spartans at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Oregon State Beavers versus the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at 7:30 p.m. And on Thursday, Dec. 19, the Spartans and Lumberjacks will take the court at 5:30 p.m., and the Beavers and Cougars will face off at 7:30 p.m.

There will be plenty of excitement off the court, too. While they’re here on Maui, the athletes will visit several schools to underscore the winning combination of academics and athletics.  “One of the things the players do during their time on Maui is to go to the elementary schools and promote reading programs,” Tarasenko explained. “We have developed reading logs for kids in different schools, asking them to participate in our reading challenge. Each book a child reads will earn them one free ticket to the Maui Classic tournament… the more books they read, the more tickets they receive.”

Now that’s what you call a winning game plan.

Tickets for the 2019 Maui Jim Maui Classic are on sale now. General seating tickets are $10 per person per day and a limited number of courtside seat tickets are available for $50 per person per day. A portion of the proceeds will benefit basketballMAUI and other local nonprofit organizations. To purchase tickets, visit www.eventbrite.com and search for “Vertical Sports Maui.” For more information about Vertical Sports Maui or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, email executive director Josh Duinker at verticalsportsmaui@gmail.com.

The Maui News – Decembr 9, 2019

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