NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Basketball Association, known around the borough as the Friday Night League, has gone through its share of changes since the league tipped off 47 years ago.
The league for 13-to-18-year-old players used to play at the Naugatuck YMCA and City Hill Middle School, but now the league plays three nights a week at Hillside Intermediate School to accommodate the 10-team circuit.
The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the league’s family environment, which includes fathers coaching sons and bonding through the game of basketball.
That father-and-son connection sometimes takes on an adversarial aspect. That was the case Feb. 11 when Palmer Herman Chiropractic, coached by Bob Clark, played Ion Bank, which is coached by Bob Clark’s son, Robbie Clark.
Bob Clark got involved in the NBA when Robbie Clark played in 2012. Bob Clark went on to coach his other son, Tommy “TJ” Clark, from 2014-18.
“My father coached me in American Legion baseball back in the day,” Bob Clark said. “I wanted to get involved and coach my sons. They played other sports, but being a golf professional didn’t allow me the time to coach them in baseball.”
Winter was the only season Bob Clark, whose team won the championship last year, could coach his sons.
“I went from a small white golf ball to a rather large basketball, but I become a student of the game watching videos and training drills,” he said.
Robbie Clark stayed on the bench with his dad as an assistant before becoming a coach himself.
“After I was through playing I knew my brother TJ would be coming into the league, so I stayed on to help coach him,” said Robbie Clark, a 2013 Emmitt O’Brien graduate. “Now my youngest brother, Tyler Markey, is on my team. So having the chance to play in this league, coach both of my brothers and now coach against my dad, it’s really a family kind of bonding through the game of basketball.”
The two first faced off as opposing coaches last season.
“When I faced my dad last year I had a team that didn’t win any games,” Robbie Clark said. “But we gave them a fight. He certainly didn’t take it easy on me, that’s for sure.”
The father had the upper hand last year and the son took it in stride, waiting for his turn. That turn came on Feb. 11.
“Oh, I had a plan,” Bob Clark said. “Last year I had a plan defensively and knew what we wanted to do on offense. I will admit it is hard coaching against your son. You want him to do well but you have a responsibility to your team.”
The son was schooled again last week as Palmer Herman picked up its first win of the season, 67-57.
“You try and treat every game the same,” Robbie Clark said. “Kind of hard when you are going up against your father, but you still try and coach the same way as you would facing anyone else.”
“There is no smack talking going on, even at home, until the season is over and then you have to hear a million times that he is the champion,” he added with a laugh.