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Gauchos gym gets sparkle

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The Gauchos hopped puddles, dodged debris and won trophies. The Gauchos sent players from a dilapidated warehouse gym on Gerard Avenue to the NBA. Imagine what the Gauchos will accomplish now, with a watertight roof, new bleachers and a historic hardwood floor.

On Thursday, August 27, boosters celebrated the renovation of the Gauchos gym. It boasts fresh orange paint, a sparkling entryway, glass backboards and an authentic Madison Square Garden floor donated by the New York Knicks.

“Michael Jordan played on this floor,” Gauchos vice president Rocky Bucano said.

The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. sponsored $150,200 grant to fund the renovation. Established in 1967, the Gauchos run a no-nonsense basketball machine known to generate pro talent.

The Gauchos had the Gerard Avenue gym built in 1987. It accumulated leaks and graffiti. Recently, the south Bronx has witnessed redevelopment: the Gateway Center shopping mall, a new Yankee Stadium, a new Metro North station.

“The Gauchos are fantastic and an institution in the Bronx,” Frank Randazzo of BOEDC said. “We were glad to help.Amazing what a coat of paint and some brickwork will do. Now the gym is like its neighbors, shiny and new.”

Diaz Jr. was on hand to cut a ribbon at the entryway to the gym. Bucano plans to decorate the entryway with college jerseys worn by former Gauchos. The Gauchos logo, an enormous black bull, is painted fresh on the orange Gerard Avenue wall.

“I shot my first basketball around the corner, at P.S. 31,” Diaz Jr. said. “The Gauchos have a great track record of getting kids to college. I remember driving on the Deegan and seeing the paint fade on the wall. The Gauchos deserve better.”

Russell Smith and Warren “CC” Holcomb watched the ribbon cutting proudly. Smith and Holcomb played with the Gauchos decades ago and returned to coach. Smith, 36, who was a pro in Tunisia, coaches the five-year olds.

“I get them ready for the big-time,” he said. “The Gauchos helped me stay off the streets, finish high school and go to college.”

Holcomb thinks the renovation will make a difference.

“It’s good for the inner-city kids to be part of success,” he said. “For me, someone who was here when it was raining inside the gym, this is a beautiful thing.”

Smith agreed.

“As people continue to hear about the program and what it’s done for kids they’ll want to get involved,” he said. “Everyone talks about getting kids off the street. Well, this is how you do it.”

The Gauchos attract players from all over the tri-state area. Jordan Alvarado, 8, used to live in the Bronx. Now a Westchester County resident, he and his two triplet brothers play for the Gauchos. They travel to tournaments in Maryland and Tennessee.

“Basketball is fun,” Alvarado said.

D.J. Bailey, 8, dribbled down the MSG hardwood to play Diaz Jr. one-on-one.

“The gym looks new,” said Bailey, of West Farms Square.

The grant was a no-brainer, according to Randazzo.

“When you give a grant to an organization, you want it to be an organization you can trust,” he said. “With the Gauchos, we knew it would be money well spent.”

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