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Mid-summer basketball tourney excites St. Albans youth

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Daniel O’Connell Park in St. Albans came to life Saturday afternoon with dozens of young athletes, their parents and elected officials, who were there to celebrate their community and play basketball.

The occasion was one of five late-summer Saturdays that area youth have reserved for competing in an annual basketball tournament as well as dance and Double Dutch contests for the past seven years.

The program is the Jump & Ball Basketball Tournament, the brainchild of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and pioneering rapper LL Cool J, both of whom grew up blocks from the park.

“Sen. Smith and LL Cool J worship at the same church [Jamaica’s Greater Allen AME Cathedral] and LL wanted to do something in the community to give back. LL and the senator grew up a few blocks from here so they said work together to give something back?” said Tai White, a spokesman for Smith. “And now we have teams come from all five boroughs and Long Island. We really want the kids to feel like they’ve done something good, and they want to come back every year. One kid may be in a gang. One’s a Blood, one’s a Crip, but here everything’s mutual.”

Beyond all the excitement of the tournament and contests, the trophies to be won and the free food and camaraderie that come with it each year, this year’s event was especially exciting. It is the first year that it was hosted at O’Connor, since Smith and other politicians used their influence to secure $1 million in public funds to renovate the park, which is now a top-notch place for area kids to shoot hoops and play outside.

Smith, City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) as well as Community Board 13 Chairman Bryan Block came out Saturday to watch a bit of ball, talk to residents and have a nice couple of hours outdoors. White said LL Cool J was unable to attend the event, despite having been expected to make an appearance Saturday afternoon.

Carl Fuller, who lives in the Baisley Houses in Jamaica and lost his son to criminal violence last year, came to watch his grandson play Saturday.

“This is something to keep the kids off the street. It gives them a positive mentality of organized competition instead of just feeding off aggression,” he said. “Rather than fighting over a corner or a block, they can come out and play ball.”

This year’s program attracted more than 200 participants ages 10 to 18, and the response was positive from the youth and their parents, like Terrance Pierce, a Brooklyn resident whose 15-year-old son Terrance Jr. played in the basketball tournament Saturday.

“It’s good for the kids. They get to interact with other people and meet new people,” Pierce Sr. said. “It gives them something to do. Normally an average kid early nowadays in the morning would be sleeping and have nothing to do. This gives them dedication and shows them responsibility and how real life works.”

St. Albans teen Jashanti Allen, who is a sophomore at Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village, said one of the best aspects of the program is that it offers something to break up the monotony of the last days of summer.

“It’s nice. It’s good for the community,” he said, still dripping sweat after a hard-played game of basketball. “Instead of having nothing to do on the block, you can play and have fun.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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