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Apr. 10—With the banners of high school state champions hanging in the rafters, a new basketball tradition began on Friday evening at Memorial Gymnasium, as the Kokomo BobKats kicked off their inaugural season.

The BobKats — a member of The Basketball League (TBL) — tipped off around 7 p.m. against Flint United in front of an energetic crowd, many of whom were already sporting the team’s apparel.

John Buteau and his 17-year-old son, Tyler, were among the spectators, and the pair said they are excited to see the season unfold.

“We came last Tuesday for the scrimmage game,” John said, “and it’s just good entertainment. It’s good for the community to be able to come out here, spend some family time and have a good Friday night. … And being just 30 minutes away, this is right in our backyard. It’s pretty neat.”

A few rows away, Angela Schenck and her daughter, Sophia, were enjoying the pre-game festivities with Angela’s father, Tom Poppas.

“It’s fun to support a new program in Kokomo,” Angela — who was born in Kokomo but now lives in New York — said. ” … I grew up coming to games here, and he (Poppas) has been coming to games here since 1952. … So, for me, I think it’s just part of the tradition going to games here and running around this place. I want to introduce her (Sophia) to it all. … And so this is amazing to see.”

And it’s that fan experience that puts a smile on the face of former Kokomo Wildkats basketball standout Jimmy Rayl Jr., son of the legendary Jimmy Rayl, whose picture is displayed on the west side of the gymnasium.

“Since COVID, there haven’t been a whole lot of people in here for games,” the younger Rayl said. “So it’s nice to see people back and watching basketball. … And it’s also pretty exciting to see all these guys from different cities playing at Memorial Gym. Just being able to play in a gym like this, for some of these kids, they’ve never seen a place like this for high school basketball. … So it all just adds to the excitement.”

Another former Wildkat standout is BobKats co-owner Mark Jansen, who spent much of Friday evening bouncing around the gymnasium with a wide grin on his face.

“This is just so wonderful,” he said, when asked what the first BobKats game means for this city. “We have a great team, and we have a wonderful coach. … And I think that rubs off. This crowd, this crowd is incredible. When there is so much going on in Kokomo tonight, and you see the people that are here, that makes me so excited.

“But even more than the actual play is what I’m seeing in the inner workings of this organization,” Jansen added, fighting back tears. “It’s more than just basketball. I’m seeing lives being changed and lives being touched in such a positive way. So to me, that’s actually more special than anything.”

For more information on the BobKats or to access a schedule, visit www.kokomobobkats.com.

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