It is a weeknight evening at Westport’s YMCA and the basketball court has been divided between two sets of teen players going through their practice drills. Off to the side, Scott Lipow is quietly watching the players while making mental notes on their performance strengths and where improvement could be made.
The teens belong to the Fairfield Fierce, a youth basketball organization run by Lipow. A for-profit endeavor, the Fairfield Fierce is an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) organization open to boys from across the region.
“We have kids from all over Fairfield County and even New Haven County,” said Lipow, who runs the Fairfield-based Six7 Marketing during the day. “The best part of this is seeing kids from different places, the towns and cities in the area, who don’t know each other. But then they start playing basketball together and start forming friendships. That’s very rewarding.”
Lipow cited a lifelong interest in basketball as the inspiration for this endeavor, which he began in 2016 after years of volunteer basketball coaching.
“I got enough kids to form my first team, then one team led to three teams and then six teams, and the word kept getting out there,” he recalled.
Today, the Fairfield Fierce is divided into seven 10-member teams, with players ranging from third to 10th grade levels, and five adults share the coaching duties with Lipow. The teams play in regional tournaments during the fall and spring against similar youth basketball group programs, and on occasion the players have gone out of state for games.
Lipow expects sportsmanship from his young players and team rules include such mandates as having the athletes ready to play 20 minutes prior to any game and 10 minutes prior to any practice while not being allowed to complain with the referees over questionable calls.
“This is more of a competitive environment as opposed to recreational,” Lipow said.
Lipow noted how the game and the sense of teamwork has helped to build a sense of maturity among the players.
“I am very impressed with how they deal with the mental health side of things,” he said. “They’re accustomed to the competitiveness and get really excited about being here. When they walk into the gym, they forget about everything else and they are energized.”
Lipow’s approach to coaching involves focusing on the individuals rather than strategy.
“In the years that I’ve been doing it, it’s less about the Xs and Os and more about the connection with the kids,” he continued. “The one caveat to that is you need to have a different approach to every kid. You cannot just take the same approach to try and form a connection across the board. Every kid is different and you have to look to relate to them on a different level. We never want to compromise any kid’s confidence”
Outside of the fall and spring tournaments, Fairfield Fierce offers a winter program where players participate in Fairfield County Basketball League games and non-league tournaments. During the summer, players in the fourth through eighth grades can participate in the Summer Scrimmages program. Participation comes with a fee per season — there is no year-round cost — and practice is held across a number of gyms in lower Fairfield County. Lipow has fielded requests for a girls program within the Fairfield Fierce, but at the moment he said he lacked the resources to accommodate female players.
Lipow is eager to see his young players gain wider recognition in the sport.
“Our first wave of kids is making a name for themselves on the high school level,” he said. “Some of these kids are going to do really well and in the next two or so years, they will be playing at great colleges.”