Truman coach John Burke saw the void that was being left for girls’ basketball in Bronx and couldn’t do anything about until now.
The Kennedy Challenge showcase brought elite teams from around the country to the borough for Martin Luther King weekend from 2006-2012. There were plenty of opportunities for local teams to participate with games being played in two gyms over two days. The event will likely not be revived with organizer O’Neil Glenn no longer coaching the Knights.
Also the late December Bergtraum Holiday Classic in Lower Manhattan ended after Lady Blazers coach Ed Grezinsky retired last fall. Burke tried to scrape an event together once that happened, but it was too much to do on short notice.
“At the time you are thinking, we are the big team in the Bronx, but it wasn’t easy,” Burke said. “A lot of phone calls, you got to call people in the spring and the summer then they are making their schedules and they need to know it’s trustworthy”.
In order to finally make it happen he just needed to find the right partners to bring it all together. Burke and Mustangs assistant Scott Bendar teamed up with Basketball Wall St. publisher Silverio Ford and Bryan Williams, the director of the Westchester Hoopers travel squad, to put on the Say Yes to Success showcase at Truman last weekend.
“Hopefully we can fill that void that has been there for a few years now,” Burke said.
The top girls hoops event in New York City during MLK weekend – the Rose Classic Super Jam – takes place at Nazareth high school in Brooklyn. Silverio, who grew up in Kings County, felt it was important for him as the event’s director to bring something similar to the Bronx.
“I wanted to do it uptown because I’m from Brooklyn, but there is something special about playing basketball uptown in the Bronx,” said Ford how has strong ties to the local girls’ hoops community. “It’s a little different dynamic than Brooklyn.”
The event featured Truman and Aquinas from the Bronx and upstate schools such as Ursuline, North Rockland, Peekskill and New Rochelle. Truman bounced back from losses to South Shore and Francis Lewis by beating Woodlands and Peekskill.
Elite clubs also traveled in from Long Island, Maryland and New Jersey to participate. Spectators could watch four games on Saturday and seven on Sunday. All of the players get t-shirts. Organizers were pleased with the response and the turnout for the opening year of what they hope are many more to come.
“This is a first-year event,” Ford said. “I’m not trying to hit a home run. I’m just trying to hit a double.”
For a Class B team like Aquinas, it was a welcome opportunity to play a step up in competition in front of college coaches. Coach Roger “Red” Collier is trying to build around freshmen Genesis Velez and Kira Villegas and sophomores Nia Menerville and Ranella Kennedy, so early exposure to a higher level of basketball for them is priceless.
“We wouldn’t get this type of look if we didn’t participate in this type of event,” Collier said.
Ford said other teams were call him to be involves and Burke is confident the success of year one shows team the event is a viable destination.
“Hopefully we can build on it and make better and better and make it the premier event,” Burke said. “But if you make it a premier event that’s alright too.”