Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Basketball program brings hope to city youth

By Annaliza Guard and Madison Marquardt
Bengal News West Reporters
In 2014, after 20 years of being held in Buffalo, the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament was moved out of downtown and away from the city’s youth. 
Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant (D, Buffalo) saw the void that the “Macker” had left, and decided that she would not only replace the tournament, she would solve its problems.
Buff City Hoops games will be held on the West Side 
The “Macker” was often criticized for its high registration costs, and for bringing violence and crime into the city. 
Last year was the beginning of a now annual program called Buff City Hoops, a structured basketball tournament centered around providing children with a safe summer activity.
“We want to promote a safe summer,” Grant said.  “We’re trying to get them to look forward to safe activities during the summer.  By them playing basketball that particular day or night, it keeps them off the street corners, it gets them to an environment where they know they are loved, they are respected and their voices matter.”
Buff City Hoops is open to children from all neighborhoods, ages 8 to 18. 
 “We come into their neighborhood,” said Esther Smothers, Buff City Hoops fundraising chair. “We’re saying we care about you, we’re coming to you.”
The program runs several games and tournaments throughout Buffalo over a six-week period, including at the West Side Community Services Center. 
“When you donate to Buff City Hoops, you’re donating to your neighborhood and your community.  We’re going to be in a community center or basketball court nearest you, so you’re actually impacting and changing the environment you live in,” said Smothers.
The league culminates in a final championship tournament.  Last year’s tournament was held Aug. 28 in Masten Park.
“We had 500 youth in the park, all day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Grant said. “Not one ill word, not one fight.  They were able to play together, so sportsmanship played a large part in it.”
But the program is about more than just basketball. Grant wanted to create a program that would build character among participants too.
“During the six-week league, we have motivational speakers, conflict resolution specialists and violence prevention speakers.  They meet once a week to impact and change their lives from the inside out,” Smothers said.
The program depends on the local community for support.  A fundraiser banquet was held April 21 at the Metropolitan Entertainment Complex on the West Side. 
In addition to utilizing websites like Facebook and GoFundMe to generate support, the program has partnered with local businesses like Bak USA. The Buffalo-based technology company donated tablets to last year’s winning teams.
“We sponsored it because we really wanted to give back to the community,” said Director of Administration Eva Bak. “We wanted to support young people who are using their summers to improve themselves and are competing in a team sport.”
The program needs the support of the community because participants are not charged to join, unlike the Gus Macker, which charged $130-150 per team.  The money goes towards the kids’ t-shirts as well as the permits for the parks where they play.
This year even more participants are expected due to promotion of the program.  Even with the increase in players, program leaders still want to maintain the same values and key principles that were fundamental in making the program a success in its first year.
“We expect them to be as nice as they were last year,” Grant said. “They can play together without being combative, they can play as a team, they can be disciplined and they can be respectful.”