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Page 45
The Rockaway Times
By Ryan PatrickWoerner
Like it or not, the dog days of
summer have unceremoniously
arrived back in Rockaway. “Back
toSchool”advertisement themes
inundateour print andbroadcast
media. We will resolutely ignore
the fact that the sunset is a min-
ute or two premature with each
passing day. Eventually, it will be
dark again on the morning drive
to work.
The shining star of these le-
thargic days will undoubtedly be
the Summer Classic Basketball
League playoffs, taking place on
weeknights at the St. Francis de
Sales indoor and outdoor courts
on Beach 129th Street.
These amateur round ball dou-
bleheaders will, if nothing more,
feature energetic coaching as
well as inspired play from grade
school, high school, and mid-
dle-aged participants alike. If you
follow the direction of the LED
halos above the courts along the
flip flop express to take in a night
of basketball at de Sales, chances
are you will not go home disap-
pointed. Late game theatrics and
emotionally-charged (but PG rat-
ed) “Coach v. Referee” dialogue
provide an abundance of enter-
tainment for nightly regulars who
occupy the aluminum roll-off
bleachers or dangle from fence
behind the western baskets.
The league, now celebrating
its 32nd summer, began in re-
sponse to a growing populari-
ty of pick-up basketball games
taking place in the St. Francis de
Sales schoolyard during week-
ends and after-work hours in
the late 1970’s and early 80’s.
In the first decade of the Clas-
sic’s existence, the Men’s and
Women’s Open division served
as a Northeast Region Pro-Am
tournament of sorts, attracting
a high-level talent pool from the
collegiate ranks. It was custom-
ary for each team’s entire start-
ing five (and even some of their
reserves) to be standing mem-
bers on college rosters. The
youth divisions were no slouch
in their own right, with the high
school division operating as a
“Who’s Who” of CHSAA back-
court talent and the grammar
school division being an ap-
propriate setting for local prep
coaches to evaluate the next
wave of talent.
The league distributed a re-
quired dress code to partic-
ipants: a specially designed
St. Francis de Sales Summer
Classic cotton t-shirt with cloth
shorts bearing the same logo.
You would do well to wash your
uniform on non-game nights
as there was a strict require-
ment to be in full uniform dur-
ing play. Sponsor names were
prominently featured on the
back of the uniform shirt. Local
barrooms and hot Wall Street
shops offered their support to
the emergent league.
Spearheading the league’s
operation since its inception
has been local staple Keith
“Bugsy” Goldberg, whose en-
thusiasm and organizational
management skills have al-
lowed for it to remain intact
until this present-day. Whether
he is pushing orange parking
barriers around the schoolyard,
instructing referees on their
court assignments, or policing
the area for potential hazards,
his presence has been one of
Summer Classic’s primary con-
stants for the past 32 years. His
contributions are worthy of
their own 2000-word long form
journalism piece, something I
am sure he would not even al-
low to print due to his uncom-
mon humility. But if youmake it
up to the schoolyard on one of
these warm nights in the com-
ing weeks, be sure to give an
unseen nod of respect to the
guy in the Graybeards tank top
with the lifeguard whistle. And
if you’re physically able, maybe
help push a bleacher back to the
Boulevard fence at the culmina-
tion of the last game!
The recognized profitability
of AAU Basketball over the past
twenty years in some ways has
taken the wind out of the sails
of local summer leagues like
de Sales and its now defunct
Brooklyn counterpart, the St.
Brendan’s Summer League.
Players from the Peninsula and
surrounding areas are thrust
into a black-hole adult-profiting
mechanism in the six-month
off-season that involves de-
fense-averse games, extensive
travel, and limited emphasis on
skill development. The promise
of the ambiguous concept of
“exposure” to college coaches
prioritizes this basketball ex-
perience over competitive lo-
cal leagues that once ruled the
day. As a result, it has been less
common for the starting guards
from a Xaverian or Archbishop
Molloy-caliber program to play
in the Summer Classic.
With that said, today’s Sum-
mer Classic still offers a spirit-
ed product to participants and
spectators alike.Theclothshorts
are gone but the patented hoop
logo remains. The baskets and
playing surface even got a much
needed upgrade following Hur-
ricane Sandy, with fiberglass
backboards standing in place
of their steel double-rimmed
predecessors that ruined even
the best of shooters' nights..
The Men’s Open Division fea-
tures no less than 32 current or
former college basketball play-
ers spread out among its eight
quarterfinal qualifying teams.
The strongest youth play may be
found in the Girl’s High School
Division, a modest four team
outfit whose games are played
inside the gymnasium. Nearly
all of that division’s partakers
are high school letter-winners
with quite a few underclassmen
showing early promise for at
least small college scholarship
basketball. The outdoor divi-
sions offer spectators an oppor-
tunity to choose from the flavor
of that particular night, be it a
close high school boys contest
or a family member running
up and down in the grammar
school ranks.
Aswe look ahead to the dread-
ed (but weather friendly)month
of September, be sure to fill your
heart with some Rockaway nos-
talgia at the St. Francis de Sales
Summer Classic. It will certainly
be a fun August on the blacktop.
Want toweigh in? I amnot hard
to find. E-mail me – ryanpatrick.
Championship teams are awarded coveted long sleeve t-shirts