“I started coaching because my niece, who was 9 at the time, came home crying one day because the coach told her she wasn’t good enough to play on his team,” recalls Aggie McCormick-Dix, founder and executive director of the Fairfax Stars AAU Basketball Program. Summer leagues, like Amateur Athletic Union and Youth Basketball of America, are where the best players come together to compete. It is also where players hone their skills and get vital exposure in front of college scouts—who start taking note of talented boys and girls as young as 11 and 12.
A player in high school and for her first year and a half at George Mason University, McCormick-Dix had never lost her love for the game. After that experience with her niece in the early 1990s, basketball became an enormous part of her life. She coached county league and then became the first female chairman of the city league program in Fairfax County. In 1996, she decided to launch her own AAU program with the objective of giving girls and boys the chance to compete at a high level while also equally focusing on teaching the fundamentals of basketball.
“In our second year we won a national title,” she says, referring to the 10 and under team that won an AAU girls championship in 1998. Since then, four other girls teams and one boys team have claimed AAU national titles and one boys team won a national YBOA title. There are currently 181 girls and 156 boys part of Fairfax Stars teams. In addition, there is the Youth Basketball Academy, where approximately 20 kids ages five to eight are taught basketball fundamentals by managing coach Ray James.
“I want the kids to have opportunities I never had,” says McCormick-Dix, an interior designer who has segued into working part-time so she can devote her energies to the Fairfax Stars. All coaches are volunteers and the only paid staff members are two part-time administrative people. “It’s important for the kids to have the best they possibly can — on and off the court. I think I make a difference, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.” Her husband, Bob Dix, also coaches.
Northern Virginia is an area rich with basketball talent. Longtime Fairfax Stars player Jasmine Thomas, who is bound for Duke University, is currently in Bratislava, Slovakia competing on USA Basketball’s women’s 19 and under team. Alumni of the program are currently attending prestigious Division I programs such as Holy Cross, Towson, Maryland, George Mason, Virginia Tech and Virginia on athletic scholarships. Stars alumna Marissa Coleman won an NCAA National Championship at Maryland in 2006 and recently won a gold medal as part of the U.S. team at the Pan Am Games.
This year, McCormick-Dix coached a girls 13 and under team that finished 18th in the nation at AAU Nationals and is finishing their season this week at U.S. Junior Nationals.
Come September, when kids return to their school teams, the Fairfax Stars remain a part of their lives. There are clinics and workshops every weekend where players can continue to work on their skills — shooting, passing, ball handling. “We do nothing but fundamental work clinics. Not game stuff — just working on the skills.”
The coaches also try to teach the kids a sense of commitment to community. Old uniforms are shipped to Tanzania and the players are encouraged to be actively engaged in community service.
“I hope at some point they come back and coach in this program,” says McCormick-Dix. “I hope someday I can retire because one of them becomes executive director. It has to be the right one, one who has the same missions and goals and heart as I do. That’s my hope.”