The first season of the Heart of Texas Summer League, a basketball league for boys and girls in grades 3-8, concluded Thursday (June 27) with the founder and commissioner “pleasantly surprised” and hoping to return next year with more teams and more divisions.

Nineteen teams in three divisions — 5th and 6th grade boys, 5th and 6th grade girls, and 3rd and 4th grade boys — played two games per week for four weeks during June in gyms at Brownwood High School, Brownwood Middle School and Coggin Intermediate School.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Matt Noe, the fledgling league’s founder and commissioner. “We survived our first year. We got off the ground and pulled off a lot of ‘what-ifs.’

“I had a lot of people pull me aside and tell me it was a fun and relaxed atmosphere, but with great competition that allowed their kids to develop as a team. A lot of people said the only way they had been able to play in the summer was by traveling a long way and paying a lot more to play in tournaments in the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex, Austin or Lubbock.”

Those tournaments, Noe said, typically charge a $300 entry fee for teams to play 3-4 games. The Heart of Texas (HoT) Summer League charged $275, and teams played eight games over four weeks.

The HoT Summer League’s first season included teams from Brownwood, Early, Bangs, Zephyr, Stephenville, Comanche, Cisco, Eastland, San Saba and Hamilton. A team even came from Water Valley, located 115 miles west of Brownwood.

Noe is planning to return next summer and hopes to add a 3rd and 4th grade girls’ division, plus a 7th and 8th grade boys’ division.

“There are plenty of summer leagues for high school JV and varsity kids, but I checked around, and the closest summer league we could find for grades 3-8 was in San Angelo,” Noe said. “We’d love to fill out our divisions next year with six or eight teams in each division. We’d like to do something for middle school boys because they don’t have anything here.

“We might include some Saturday tournaments as well for any teams in our league that want to play two or three extra games in one day.”

Noe moved from the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound, where there are no shortage of year-round youth leagues in every sport. He moved to Brownwood last year in part because his wife Andrea (Jones) Noe is from Brownwood and has family here.

“Our boys (fifth-grader Carson and seventh-grader Hayden) were going into middle school feeder schools for a Class 6A high school. We were looking for a smaller setting so we took a leap of faith and moved here,” Matt Noe said.

“We knew basketball took somewhat of a backseat here to football and baseball and even soccer. Basketball is the thing to do here when it’s cold outside, but we’ve found a lot of kids that want to play.”

His sons were interested in basketball, and one of the first things Noe noticed was the absence of summer leagues for elementary and middle school players. His son Carson joined a Brownwood 5th and 6th grade team that played in the Bangs city league last November and December, then in Little Dribblers tournaments from January-March.

“But there was still nothing for the summer,” Noe said. “So I decided that if I can’t find a league, I’ll start one.”

Using feedback from contacts he made with coaches and parents last winter — and with assistance and support from Brownwood High School head coaches Heather Hohertz and Nadir Dalleh — Noe finalized plans in April to launch his new summer league. A marketing and advertising agency employee who works from home, Noe used his professional skills to launch a website and Facebook page to help spread the word for his fledgling league.

“The feedback was resoundingly in favor of starting a summer league,” Noe said.

He secured the use of three Brownwood ISD gyms that were available on Monday and Thursday evenings, and he made contact with local referees. Games began at 5:30 p.m. and ended around 8:45, and because there was no time for parents or athletes to leave for dinner between games, Noe secured Swigs BBQ and Catering from Comanche to provide a food truck on Mondays and Chick-fil-A to do the same on Thursdays.

“I heard more positive feedback about the food trucks than anything,” Noe said. “We want our league to be a premier experience, and it just made sense. Some families have to leave home at 4 or 4:30 to make it for a 5:30 game. Then they’re staying until 8:45 or so. When are they going to have time to eat?”

Noe also reached out to local charities, offering them the chance to keep the proceeds if they would stock and operate the concession stands with drinks and snacks. The ARK Domestic Violence Shelter operated the concessions the first three weeks and raised about $475. Good Samaritan Ministries took over the concessions for the final week.

“Our long-term goal is to be a nonprofit organization,” Noe said. “The entry fee from each team covered our costs to rent the gyms and pay the referees. We didn’t charge admission to games because the teams already had paid an entry fee.”