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Open Basketball Program Is A Game Changer

You know you have a product when you can attract more than 20 people at 7 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday morning, especially after restricting participation to TOBY residents. Except open gym isn’t really a product at all, but a free program offered by the recently built Town of Oyster Bay Hicksville Recreation Center, which, in a partnership P.A.L. Co-Director Doug Kenah calls “very positive”, splits its time between P.A.L. leagues for kids under the age of 18 and town-organized activities for adults 18 and over. In a world where adult sport leagues charge increasingly greater fees, Hicksville’s partnership with P.A.L. offers a refreshing movement against the trend of pay to play.

Free indoor basketball every day of the week (the center also holds sessions Monday through Thursday) requiring only residence in the Town of Oyster Bay is rarer than you would think. P.A.L., currently enjoying a 25 year lease with the facility, owns two other facilities around Long Island with basketball courts, but play is restricted to youth leagues. Sportime at various locations sometimes holds open gym, but only for members. Island Garden, the mega hoops facility in West Hempstead, only rarely opens its courts and almost never during basketball season. Most high schools do, but only for high school kids. What the Hicksville rec center is doing is in many ways ground breaking. Decision makers could have chosen to make extra cash running lucrative night leagues or at the least charging some sort of membership fee. Instead, they decided to use their pristine court for the public good. True, the facility probably wouldn’t have generated much if they expected players to pay to play at seven am. Then again, the town didn’t have to hire staff at that hour or waste its electricity for profit-less games.

Keeping play at no cost may carry other important implications as well. Comparing the rec center to leagues at Bethpage Sporttime, where it’s $190 for a ten game schedule reveals marked differences in game play. At Sportime, play is more intense, fights are more frequent, and referees are subject to abuse. Conversely, games at Hicksville are played hard but with fewer stakes for the past year I’ve been playing there, I’ve still yet to witness a fight. For $0, the Hicksville rec center owes its basketball players nothing more than a place to play. Rather, the players might even owe the center something, at the very least, respectful basketball. If the goal is to establish a community and provide adults young and old with a place they look forward to returning on a weekly basis, the atmosphere at Hicksville is probably more ideal.

Perhaps even more enlightening than participation on weekend mornings, which brings in a collection of young and old, is attendance at the Friday night sessions from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. It must mean something when twenty-something year old men (and occasionally a few women) willingly forgo a night out to play basketball for two hours. Twenty four year-old Bethpage resident John Medford, whose preferred time slot is weekend mornings but occasionally turns up Friday nights, likes playing with the same core group of guys each week and says the games, while friendly at heart, can mimic league play in their intensity. Steve Bradshaw calls it a place for “older guys to play and stay in shape.” For me, the Friday time slot also acts as a way to keep fit, as well as a steady event I can count on when I’m either bored or choose to postpone my night life to Saturday.  

Not all programs at the Hicksville Rec Center are free but the open court basketball program has created a special place for Town of Oyster Bay basketball players, and is maybe be the most community-changing program the facility offers. Whatever the case, let’s hope the Hicksville Rec Center will forever open its doors to free basketball in the Town of Oyster Bay, even if we have to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on the weekends.