It may have looked like basketball, but Saturday’s Back to School festival - put on by the Shelton Jones Foundation at Bolden Mack Park in Amityville - was an example of the kind of good things that can happen when individuals and institutions work together to provide community-wide mentorship for young people.
The all-day event in Babylon Town on September 3 offered up informal basketball clinics, three-on-three competitions, free school backpacks to attendees, t-shirts and sweats for sale, a special session with basketball skills coach Kevin Lowery and more.
However, according to Shelton Jones, former NBA basketball player and a product of the Amityville/Copiague community, there was something else going on.
“In a sense this is a smokescreen for community mentorship,” said Jones. “Basketball helps teach discipline in life, and this is a great way to do that. It’s a way to get the community to partner and work to make sure none of our children fail.”
There are others associated with Amityville basketball - Mike James, a Duquesne standout currently playing in Europe, for whom the courts at Bolden Mack Park are named - who continue to make an impact on the scene.
But for Shelton Jones - who returned to the region after starring at St. John's under Lou Carnesecca and then appearing in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs and other teams - pairing school, church and community groups together to provide leadership to youngsters is a hands-on endeavor.
“This is a very personal thing for me,” he admitted. “I didn’t have a mentor growing up; I know how tough that was for me.”
According to Anita Rickenbacker, events coordinator for the Shelton Jones Foundation, Saturday’s activities are just the start of what they hope will be a continuing series of programs “based on the idea of getting the schools, churches and other community institutions and individuals together in support of young people.”
Among the ideas, said Jones, is a Black heritage tournament this fall. And he’s thinking through the possibility of bringing promising youngsters from the Amityville area to do clinics in Europe in the future.
“I have a lot of good relationships with people in Europe,” Jones said. “It would be awesome for these kids - some of them will never have a chance to leave New York.”
All that’s out in the future, of course.
As for Saturday while members of the foundation pulled together the complex organization of a day’s drills and competition, there was plenty of hands-on mentorship in evidence. Young people pulled together pick-up games, worked on jumpers, dunks and one-on-one moves. Adults worked with kids on mental, physical and emotional aspects of the game.
Meanwhile at the check-in desk, representatives from the foundation, local schools and the community were doing their part - including Liz Berning, a 41-year veteran of the Amityville system, who was selling school t-shirts and sweats.
“This is all about pride in community,” Berning said.