Ava stood with the basketball in her hands, looked at the net, threw the ball, and scored. Again and again, she took the shot. Again, and again the ball went in the hoop. “I love this game,” she gushed to her teen buddy Danielle. It was a warm July day, and the outdoor sports group was using the newly installed, brightly colored, blue and green court for the first time. Lukas took the center position and made a few baskets of his own, while Coach Tom Havrilla did some drills with Joel, another teen participant. “1-2-3-pass. Good! Again: 1-2-3 pass!”
The court was made possible by Mason Schwartz, who created the play area as a Bar Mitzvah project. “Basketball has always been my passion and an outlet for me,” he said. “The Friendship Circle has also always been very important to my family and me.”
After discussing some ideas with the Friendship Circle, he put the two together. “It seemed natural that my mitzvah project would combine two things so much a part of who I am.”
The court, made of interlocking squares, was installed in June. It’s a great utilization of space, and it adds yet another element of variety to the outdoor sports area, which includes the football as well.
“I know, as well as anyone, how important it is to get your energy out through sports.” Mason shared. “Physical activity and learning to be a part of a team are very important life skills for every kid. It helps improve motor skills, personal relationships, develops self-confidence, and teaches athletic and sportsmanship skills.”
The court has added a new feature to Outdoor Sports, a weekly two-hour program, which invites participants to play everything from T-ball or baseball to football or soccer — “anything the students want to play,” said Havrilla. “As long as they are busy and active and I have them enjoying themselves.”
While most of the group gathered to break in the basketball court, Sammy, played jai alai on the field with his buddy, Kunal Chinai of Livingston. Chinai, 17, had already spent a full day as a lifeguard at a nearby day camp, but couldn’t wait to get off the bus and spend a few hours with Sammy.
“I’m always happy when I get here, I love being with Sammy and playing outside here,” he said. “He loves talking to me and we’re always having a great conversation,” he said, as the pair ran across the field and eventually switched from Jai alai to frisbee. Even when Sammy took a quick break from play, the pair kept talking, and Sammy grabbed Kunal’s hand. “Come.”
Havrilla continued on the basketball court with the rest of the group. “It’s personally so satisfying to see smiles on these kids’ faces when I’m here. That’s why I do it,” he said.
With a big smile on her face, Ava made one more basket before it was time to go home.