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A Beacon of hope for local basketball players

In one of the few local tournaments held during the summer, Holy Cross edged the Beacon All-Stars 68-64 in overtime on July 28 at MS 74 in Bayside, capturing the 10th annual Beacon Summer Classic championship."This is our premier tournament," said Beacon head coach Dave Johnson, who has also served as the program's athletic director since its inception in 1992. "Kids get a chance to shine and play against decent competition."The Beacon center, based at MS 158 in Bayside, consists of various programs, including boys and girls basketball as well as academic tutoring and counseling. Funded by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, the free after-school center is open to children of all ages and operates year-round.According to Al Stark, coordinator of Beacon services, the purpose of the eight-team summer league is to showcase younger high school players. He also said it is a chance for coaches to see who handles themselves best under pressure situations.He also added that it gives incoming varsity players the chance to get a head start on developing chemistry with their new teammates."It is fun," said game MVP Anthony Clarke, a senior at Holy Cross who tallied 16 points in the win. "You get do more things during the summer than you can during the regular games."Added teammate Gordon McKenzie, who finished with 13 points, two coming on the game-winning jumper from the baseline with under a minute left in overtime: "When the season comes around, [the team] will probably be clicking on all cylinders." Willie and Justin Garvin, 17 and 14 respectively, have been attending the Beacon center forever."The [summer] league is fun," said Justin, who put Beacon ahead 57-56 with eight seconds left before Holy Cross hit one free throw to force overtime. "It's a great opportunity. We get to play against good teams that we don't get to play against during our regular season because we're in public schools."The season began in late June and the playoffs started July 26. Full of close games, the most thrilling came in the semifinal with the third-seeded Beacon All-Stars dethroning four-time defending champion Christ the King, the two seed, 46-45. After a first round bye, top-seeded Holy Cross defeated No. 4 St. Dominic's, 43-39 to advance to the title tilt.Holy Cross led by 10 at the half and by 12 with 10 minutes remaining. Using speed and relentless defensive pressure Beacon came back, using a 7-0 run in less than a minute to tie it at 55.Things did get sloppy, however, as the game's final moments seemed to last all night as players committed an endless amount of fouls and turnovers."It's not a high profile all-star extravaganza," Stark said. "That's not the purpose of it. The purpose is for local schools to have players get experience over the summer."And the purpose of the program is to help kids find a place they can go to after school, a place they can call their home away from home."It kept me off the streets," said Cequan Best, a junior at Francis Lewis who started going to the center when he was a student at MS 158. "It saved me a lot. Instead of running the streets all day, you just came and played basketball."Reach contributing writer Joseph Maniello by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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