A pint-sized scoring machine, Lucas Lambert weaved through defenders as he netted the first six points during a recent basketball game at the Oxford Community Center.
In the Sunday league for children ranging from age 6 to 8, Lucas' 12 points overall would have equaled that of the entire opposition - had anyone kept score.
But that's the point, league officials say.
Because no score was kept, all of the little tykes in opposing yellow and blue shirts exited the court as winners.
Scoring and the winning-is-a-habit mentality yield to learning the game and everyone having fun, said league organizer and referee Keith Giard, who often stopped the game to explain traveling violations to a child.
The no-scoring concept for this youngest 6 to 8 age grouping has been in play at the center for six years, Mr. Giard said. It's also part of a continued nationwide trend for young beginners in many sports.
The community center league is the only organized town-sanctioned basketball
for kids this young. The hoops are lowered from 10 feet to 8 feet. Tryouts were held before the season to put together balanced teams.
The center also holds two other leagues for children ages 8 to 10 and 10 to 12. However, a 7-year-old who is supremely skilled is playing in the 8 to 10 league, organizers said.
Traditionalists sometimes have a hard time with the no-scoring philosophy.
"There's always that push-pull between the competitive spirit of what sport is and the cooperative spirit of what teamwork is, and when is the right time to teach that cooperative spirit in an open
window in terms of some of the developmental process of youth," said Dan Lebowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Sport
in Society at Northeastern University
Mr. Lebowitz said "old school people" who are involved in sports
want to keep score because they think that if it isn't maintained, kids don't understand how to be competitive.
"But there's enough of a framework throughout all of society around competition that it's not so negative that in a first-grade league, you're not keeping score so that the focus on the game is on cooperative spirit, and sort of positive teamwork, and understanding how to work as a unit," Mr. Lebowitz said.
If that community engagement mentality isn't instilled in kids at a young age, he said, they may not learn the lessons later.
But David A. Feigley of the Rutgers University Youth Sports Research Council in New Jersey points out in an online paper that those who advocate the position that winning is not important often miss the view that without an attempt to win the contest, the activity is no longer sport.
The essence of sport, he continues, is striving to win. Without that attempt, the activity is of a different nature.
Eric Lambert, who coached the yellow team of his son Lucas, said not keeping score is appropriate for this age group, but not with older kids.
"It allows them to focus on learning the game," he said.
Mr. Lambert said he enjoys coaching this age group because it allows him to meet his son's friends.
Meanwhile, competition at this age teaches the children organization and sportsmanship, he said.
Their progress in two to three months is evident, he said.
"They start off not even being able to hit the rim," Mr. Lambert said.
"Most of them are able to make shots, pass, and know more about the game."
Despite his son's dominance, other kids had fun as they enjoyed individual successes.
Jianna Clouthier, Lucas' teammate, nailed a shot late in the first half.
She raised both arms triumphantly.
Seconds later, Dylan McDonald of the opposing blue team closed out the half's scoring with a short jump shot. He, too, raised his arms and clapped five with his father, Travis McDonald, also his coach.
Late in the second half, Erica Valentino of the yellow team put in a layup and gave her folks a thumbs up.
Mr. McDonald said not keeping score makes it less of a challenge maintaining the kids' interest, if one team has the decided advantage.
"They'll look at the score and see 35-2, and then they're going to feel hopeless," Mr. McDonald said.
"All this age group is about is getting them having fun, liking the sport and teaching them the basics of it."
After the game, Dylan ran to his dad and said, "Hey, I scored three goals."
None of the kids ever ask who won, Mr. McDonald said.
Mr. Giard, who runs the league, said that every now and then a parent asks why the league does not keep score.
Seven years ago, when scoring was maintained in the league, Mr. Girard said, he noticed the kids were constantly looking at the scoreboard instead of learning the skills of the game.
The parents cheered or sat quietly. None of them kept their own score sheets.
This wasn't always the case.
Ten years ago at Trinity Catholic Academy in Southbridge, parent Madaline I. Daoust signed up her then 7-year-old son, Michael, for basketball.
Like other parent spectators, Ms. Daoust was stunned the league didn't keep score.
The parents were keeping score, she said.
"Just for their own sake, not so much for the children's sake, because that's the society we grew up in," she said.
Contact Brian Lee at email@example.com