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Van Buren forced off of homecourt

On Friday,...

By Dylan Butler

For the second straight year, the Van Buren boys’ basketball team hosted a first-round playoff game. Last year, in front of a rambunctious crowd at the Bellerose school on Valentine’s Day, the VeeBees defeated Brooklyn powerhouse Grady, 66-53.

On Friday, Van Buren again hosted a first-round game as the 14th-seed faced No. 19 Dewitt Clinton. But this home game wasn’t home. Because of construction on a retractable wall in the Van Buren gym, the VeeBees were forced to use the Cardozo High School gym as their home site.

The stands were not as full, the crowd not as daunting and with Van Buren’s recent struggles at Cardozo, the Judges’ gym was more of a neutral court. And Van Buren head coach Perry Dortch was none too pleased.

“When I found out I was shocked,” he said. “I thought, ‘How could they do that.’”

The Van Buren boys’ team, which lost the game 49-40, was not the only team affected by the construction. The girls’ basketball team, fresh off a 44-24 first-round win over Global Studies, won a coin toss to host its second round game against Grover Cleveland.

But VeeBees head coach Mike McClain was told by Van Buren Athletic Director Celeste Burgess last Monday their gym was not available and the site of the game was switched to Cleveland. Van Buren went on to lose the game, 68-30 last Tuesday. The combination of being without suspended starting guard Cheriese Soto and losing the home gym was tough for the head coach to swallow.

“It was like lightning striking twice,” he said. “Boom, boom.”

Added Dortch, “It was two days out of 365 in the year. It had to be done now? Both teams have worked so hard for [home court advantage] and I felt it was not a nice way to pay these kids back.”

Both Dortch and McClain said they were told the school had been trying to arrange the construction for a while and that last week was the only time they were told the work could be done.

Burgess declined to comment on the situation.

“Not that [playing at Cardozo] was the worst situation, but what do you say to these kids? How do they feel?” Dortch said. “They wanted to play at their home gym and they earned it. This hurt a lot of people. I thought we had more support than this.”

And the decision was especially tough on Van Buren senior point guard Josh Puello, who played his final high school game.

“It was real tough not to play on our home court,” said Puello, who had just six points. “Cardozo is in Queens, but it’s not the same. We would’ve had more fan support, the crowd would have been more juiced up. Things just don’t go our way all the time.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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