By Andy Warrener
The Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
The Tampa Bay Inferno girls basketball club is living up to its name — it’s on fire.
All five of the fifth-year program’s teams are ranked in the top 20 in the AAU national standings, including the No. 1 seventh-grade squad in the country.
The Inferno seventh-grader red team moved to the top spot by winning four tournament championships in 2012. In all, the club has six titles this season.
Such success was exactly what club founder Harold Givens, of Wesley Chapel, intended when he started the Inferno with his wife, JoAn.
“These girls learn to understand the game of basketball,” JoAn said. “We don’t teach girls basketball, we teach basketball.”
The Givens captain the six teams, but each squad has a different coach. One of those is sixth-grade coach Kelsey Gatz.
“We have genuine people in the organization,” Gatz said. “At any time any parent can come talk to us.”
The grueling AAU summer schedule has the Inferno competing as far north as the Florida Panhandle and as far south as Miami. The progression from when the season started has been great, according to Gatz.
“When these girls started in March, they could barely dribble and cut,” Gatz said. “Now look at them.”
Unlike many athletic clubs, the Givens actually seek talent. Harold and JoAn can be spotted at YMCAs and middle school basketball games looking for new players.
“We have about a 60/40 recruit-to-walk-in percentage,” JoAn said.
The Inferno has fifth-, sixth-, two seventh-, ninth- and eleventh-grade teams. JoAn said they like to have 10 to 12 players on each team to spread out the talent.
“There is no fall off when we make substitutions,” JoAn said.
Gatz and the other coaches work on a voluntary basis. The club is a nonprofit group, which has several fundraisers to offset the fees for the athletes.
“We hold car washes, try to get sponsors, we try to get it to where the girls have to pay little or nothing to play for us,” JoAn said.
The Inferno keeps a low overhead by relying on low-priced use of several facilities, such as the First Baptist Church of Land O’ Lakes and Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
The consequence of all the bouncing around is the Inferno does not really have a home court.
“These girls are used to playing on the road,” Harold said.
For more information on the Inferno, call Harold at (813) 997-9933.