SFDS Summer Classic Celebrates 40 Years

SFDS Summer Classic Celebrates 40 Years

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“I truly look forward to the summer weeks of exciting outdoor basketball played under the lights in the schoolyard at Beach 129 Street and the Boulevard, just as I used to relish all the neighborhood camaraderie of the Rockaway Little League at Fort Tilden for many years. When you visit the Summer Classic — and even a modest basketball fan would enjoy it, in my view — you have to be impressed by how smoothly it runs, for such a massive operation.” – Vivian Carter, The Wave, 2009

The St. Francis de Sales Summer Classic program has been a vital part of the Rockaway community for the past 39 years. The list of players who have played on the Father Grogan Memorial Schoolyard courts is long and prestigious; Chris Mullin, his brothers John and Terrence, Mark Jackson, Armond Hill,  Kevin Fitzgerald, Ernie Grunfeld, Clare Droesch, and Tricia Tubridy are among the hundreds of legendary players that made this their summer home.

  • Early Summer Classic stalwarts Flip Mullen (left) and Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg. Photo courtesy of Flip Mullen.

I reached out to Kenny Anderson, Archbishop Molloy standout and former NBA All-Star, who played in the Summer Classic in the late 80s.

“Yes sir,” said Anderson, when I asked him about playing in Rockaway. “I did my thing…I loved all the fans that came out to watch, it was lit!”

In 2013, the 29th season of the St. Francis de Sales Basketball Classic, the season appeared to be in jeopardy as the schoolyard deteriorated from damage from Superstorm Sandy. The yard was a community lifeline following the storm but was undermined by the flood waters and needed complete replacement, including the lighting system which was toppled by the winds and waters.

As spring approached, then-SFDS pastor Msgr. John Brown met with Summer Classic Director Keith Goldberg, Terence Mullin, Marty McManus, and Jim McCool to assemble a restoration plan. McCool had coordinated a January event with the Graybeards, NBC, and the restaurant Resette that raised funds for Rockaway and Breezy Point and selected the reconstruction project to be a primary recipient of funds.

This provided the impetus to go forth with the project with a goal of playing this year’s Summer Classic. Mullin then went into gear raising awareness through articles in The Tablet, The New York Post, New York Daily News, and the Wall Street Journal. This led to an association with the And 1 apparel company which pledged to provide uniforms and other financial support. The Sean Lugano and Rockefeller Foundations joined in as well. Goldberg solicited proposals for the various aspects of the construction project and essentially became the Project Manager. After contractors were selected, an ambitious schedule was set.

Unfortunately, delays occurred due to unforeseen circumstances. While play for some divisions was able to proceed in the St. Francis gym, games scheduled in the schoolyard could not begin.

Once again, help arrived as Rita Mullally and Jennifer Bethea of Gateway NRA. provided the newly refurbished Riis Park courts, and Kevin Raphael and Dan Wiatre provided the gym at St. Edmund’s Prep so that games for the remaining divisions could begin.

The schoolyard gets packed night after night with families, friends, neighbors, and of course the players. Walking around the yard you are bombarded with smiling faces and friendly hello’s. The schoolyard on game night shows in its truest form the immense comradery of our special community.

From the beginning, the huge success of the program is largely due to the dedication of the sponsors. Year after year they provide the necessary support to keep the games running.

This summer, the Summer Classic will celebrate its 40th year, and it will be a tremendous opening night. Featuring music from “The THE BAND Band” and other special guests, the organizers are hoping the first night of the SFDS Basketball Classic can raise money for this year’s tournament. 

Please send donations to St Francis de Sales Summer Classic, Parish House, 216 Beach 130th Street, Belle Harbor, NY, 11694.

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