Basketball tournament raises money for homeless youth

Posted on Apr 25, 2015

by Robert Storace

NEW BRITAIN — Sam Harris was on one of 45 teams that took to the courts throughout the day in downtown Saturday for the third annual Hoops for Homeless event. The 3-on-3 basketball tournament raised money and awareness for city school children who are homeless.

Harris, a 17-year-old New Britain High School junior and a member of the “Splash Brothers,” got six points in his victory over another team from NBHS called “Chesley Park.” Harris is a huge basketball fan and has been playing as long as he can remember. He also recalls not too long ago living in city shelters with his mother.

“I’m here playing because I lived in shelters when I was 14 and 15 years old,” Harris said after his victory. “I know what it’s like to not have food. It’s not a pretty thing. What these people are experiencing is serious. A lot of kids bounce around from home to home to get a meal. It’s a tough struggle.”

While most of those who took part in the Hoops for Homeless event did not grow up like Harris, Joe Vaverchak said he believes the message of New Britain’s homeless youth has been getting out there.

Vaverchak, school district attendance manager, formed the basketball tournament in 2013, along with local attorney Paul Zagorsky and Central Connecticut State University professor Jacob Werblow.

“I wish I could say there wasn’t a youth homeless issue in New Britain, but there is,” said Vaverchak, who said more than 300 of the district’s 10,000 students are homeless — either staying in a shelter, “couch surfing,” staying with family members or moving frequently.

Vaverchak said “the problem is continuing to grow” but that awareness is also growing. Thanks to the support of the Petit Foundation — which donated $5,000 — and other donations (plus the $50 fee that most of the teams paid), organizers say about $20,000 will have been collected. The money will be dispersed between Vaverchak’s “Road to Recovery”program (which helps homeless students), The Prudence Crandall Center, New Britain Boys & Girls Club and the Friendship Center.

Paul Salina, chief operations officer for the school district, said “usually we always want to keep kids off the street. Today, we want them on the street for 3-on-3 basketball.”

Back on Main and West Main Streets, where 10 regulation hoops were set up for the matches, 11-year-old Gaffney Elementary student Shondrigus Jones had just won a game against another Gaffney team, 11-8. Shondrigus said everyone at Gaffney who came did so for two reasons: to have fun and raise money for their fellow students in need.

“I want to raise money for homeless kids that have no place to live, no money to eat and no money for clothes,” Shondrigus said.

Bill Lounds, physical education teacher at Gaffney, said about 12 Gaffney students took part in the tournament. “They heard about it and wanted to help,” he said. Gaffney students and staff contributed about $250, Lounds added.

About half of the 45 teams were from city schools. Local aldermen and school board members formed one team, and there were also teams from Glastonbury, Manchester, Branford, New Haven and Hartford, among other communities.

There were seven winning teams, one from each division.