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Baysiders seek league funds

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Two recent college graduates from Bayside are trying to revive a basketball league for youth that hundreds of children from around Queens once participated in every summer until it fell apart after the league’s founder had to leave to take care of his sick daughter about five years ago.

Bayside natives PJ Wagner and Lorcan Malone, both 22, said they were hoping to secure funding for and generate community interest in the Rising Stars League, which operated for about two months every summer from 1993 until 2005 and was open to boys and girls in third- to eighth-grade. Some 300 students played in the league that used the courts at Bayside High School until 2005, when Bayside resident Kevin O’Connell had to leave because he needed to take care of his daughter, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It was such a great opportunity for kids and the whole community,” said Wagner, who played and coached in Rising Stars. “Even if you weren’t playing, you were down there watching the games, hanging out with your friends outside.”

After O’Connell left, Wagner and Malone said they always wanted to restart it but were unable to because they were too busy at college. Now that they have graduated and are living in Bayside again, they said they have time to jump-start the program — but they need to obtain funding to resurface the courts that have fallen into disrepair.

“The cracks in the courts are deep and there are a lot of them,” Malone said. “We’d really like to start it again. It’s another way for people to meet kids their own age and make friends from different areas. The kids are from all over. It’s a great community atmosphere. All around the court people, even people without kids would watch the games and they’d be talking and laughing.”

While O’Connell said he cannot help to run the league again, he did give his former players his blessing and said he would love to see the league started again.

“I’d love to see it revived,” said O’Connell, whose daughter who had cancer is now in remission. “I still get asked all the time about it.”

All of O’Connell’s six children played in the league, and he said the summer program allowed children from throughout the borough to shoot hoops in games that were not high-pressure.

“It was just strictly for the kids to have fun,” O’Connell said.

Wagner and Malone said they hoped to get funding from the city Department of Education, since it owns the court space or potentially from area legislators. Both City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) are working with the two Bayside residents to get the program off the ground.

“Restarting the Rising Stars program would be a huge boost to the neighborho­od,” Halloran said.

Braunstein agreed.

“I used to play in the league when I was growing up, and it’s a really good place for people to get together,” Braunstein said. “It’s a good place to hang out, and it’s good for the community.”

For more information about the Rising Stars League, contact PJ Wagner at pjames612@hotmail.com or 718-514-3525.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:48 am, October 12, 2011
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