For the 50th straight year, the best youth basketball players in East Elmhurst, Corona and surrounding neighborhoods gathered to face off in the Elmcor Youth Basketball League playoff finals on Saturday.
In the eight-and-under division, West Side Warriors defeated the New York City Panthers 24-19, while Hoop Dream topped the West Side Panthers in the 10-and-unders. In the 14-and-under division, Five Boroughs trumped Ball Hoggs, 58-48, and in the 16-and-under final, Renaissance Warriors beat the Long Island Heat, 46-43.
There were several intense moments of basketball throughout the tournament, with one of the key moments coming from Long Island Lightning player Javon Lyles’ three-point buzzer-beater that cemented his team’s 32-29 victory over the Bellos in the 12-and-under division.
Gregory Coles, the current co-director of the Elmcor Youth and Activities Center, was one of the first kids to participate in the summer basketball league’s 1964 inaugural season.
“I wasn’t the best kid, and Elmcor helped keep me off the streets,” Coles said.
To him, the best part of the tournament of today is that it is held indoors instead of on the outdoor courts at PS 127.
“We have the air conditioning, and 1,000 seats in our stands,” Cole said. “Playing indoors instead of outdoors saved the players’ knees and legs. Concrete doesn’t give.”
The Elmcor center on Northern Boulevard is the realization of a dream that started in 1965 with a group of concerned parents and senior citizens who wanted a way to keep kids off the streets. Originally, the Summer Classic was led by Cecil Watkins, his brother Leroy, and a handful of others.
He said that seeing the kids playing an indoor tournament in professional uniforms with top quality equipment was a “dream come true.”
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, a long-time supporter of the program, helped fund the uniforms and equipment for this year’s basketball season. He reminisced as he watched the finals from a quiet corner in a folding chair behind the bleachers.
“I played for Elmcor in another lifetime, worked for Elmcor as executive director years ago, Elmcor is in my blood,” Aubry said. “When we started with Elmcor we were in a storefront on Astoria Boulevard and we grew from there to the three facilities we have now. It has grown and flourished through the years.”
Though the summer season is over, the fall season is right around the corner, according to Coles, who said that the next big event is a September 27th Back to School tournament that will introduce the fall league for children in grades 3 through 11.
Coles also said that Elmcor hopes to host a Battle of the Champions tournament next summer, which invites the championship teams from tournaments around the city to the center.
He also hopes to establish a program that provides college scholarships to some of the players who have real talent, but no offers.
“We’ve got to give them some place to go,” Coles said.