LIU Brooklyn: Building Community Connections Through Basketball

(This is a special edition post written by Michael Randazzo)

FORT GREENE, BROOKLYN. – When the LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball team tips off its 2016-17 basketball season Saturday night against Army at the Steinberg Wellness Center, hundreds of local children will be cheering for the Blackbirds, courtesy of LIU’s Games 4 Gear (G4G) program.

Initiated in the 2011-12 season by LIU’s athletic department, G4G is an innovative approach to community-building in neighborhoods surrounding the university’s downtown Brooklyn campus. Vouchers distributed to elementary schools and community centers located throughout the borough provide local children and their families free admission to certain Blackbird men’s and women’s home basketball games.

At season’s end, LIU donates $500 to each of the top six participants (by attendance) for their athletic and recreation programs.

“We are looking forward to another great season with our Games for Gear program,” said Margaret Alaimo, Deputy Director of Athletics/Senior Woman Administrator at LIU Brooklyn. “It’s been a great way to connect children and their families in our local community with the excitement of college basketball. Their energy and enthusiasm at our games contributes to the atmosphere and helps to energize our student-athletes.”

(Photo: Bob Dea - BHJ)

(Photo: Bob Dea – BHJ)

Since 2011, LIU Brooklyn Athletics has donated almost $20,000 while making thousands of complimentary tickets available to games at the university’s home court in Fort Greene, as well as at Barclays Center, where the Blackbirds typically play three to four games per year.

“G4G has served our community since its inception and has enabled our students and families to see high-level Division I basketball while serving as an example to our student-athletes, that if you work hard with your academics and sports skills, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish,” said Mark Zguro, head coach of the PS 44 Knights basketball team in Crown Heights. “We have used the money donated by LIU to purchase uniforms and basketballs and to pay for referee fees.”

The program has connected Blackbird basketball with schools as geographically diverse as P.S. 156 in Brownsville, P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens and Community Roots Charter School near the Navy Yard.

Including NYCHA community centers at Lafayette Gardens in Bedford Stuyvesant, Bushwick-Hylan Houses in Bushwick and Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene helps to broaden G4G’s community outreach.

“It’s the perfect example of a university supporting and caring about the neighborhoods where they are a visible part of everyday culture,” said Zguro.

For local parents, Games 4 Gear is ideal in helping to develop an appreciation for high quality basketball, virtually in their own backyards.

“I have been the point person on G4G for Arts & Letters since the first year,” said Carrie Larrier, whose son attends Arts & Letters, a public kindergarten through eighth grade school in Fort Greene. “I love how families respond after attending a game — it is so much more fun than they imagined, and they are always surprised how much their kids get into the game.

“It’s a great family-friendly venue that lets everyone get up-close and personal with the players, and it’s obvious who we should be rooting for,” continued Larrier. “G4G is a better value and experience for families than Nets or Knicks tickets!”

LIU’s bounty has provided plenty of G4G games this season. Besides Army’s first visit to Brooklyn since 1997, there are 13 other dates this season. Two are at Barclays Center: Wednesday, November 16, when LIU’s men take on Loyola (MD); and Wednesday, December 21, when the LIU men’s squad face Niagara and the women meet UMBC.

Other notable dates include a January 14 men’s and women’s doubleheader against cross-Flatbush rival St. Francis Brooklyn; Northeast Conference men’s foes Wagner on January 19 and Robert Morris on February 2; and the LIU women in a matinee matchup with NEC rival Central Connecticut on Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

%d bloggers like this: