After Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, Mamaroneck experienced civil unrest.
To bring some stability to the village, Wainwright “Wain” Carrington worked to get a basketball court with lights built in Columbus Park. The court eventually became a mecca for basketball devotees in Westchester—akin to Rucker Park in Harlem—attracting pro and college-level talent. Mostly, though youth leagues, like the Twilight Basketball League and Police Benevolent Association (PBA) teams, kept kids away from negative influences.
Carrington also participated in a lot of other positive, community-oriented projects while serving as a leader in the local and county NAACP and as the first African-American to run for an elected office on the village board of trustees.
On Saturday, dozens of his family members joined local dignitaries and former players who made a name on the court to . Then, the old-timers played a couple of legends games with prominent local players.
“There was an uprising after Martin Luther King’s death,” said Howard Jordan, who helped organize the event. “Wain Carrington wanted to turn a parking lot into a basketball court and this created something amazing.”
The games attracted a lot of mentors for young players on and off the court. “We used to take youth group teams all over the county playing games,” said Dennis Solazzo, one of five brothers who played in local high school teams and at the Columbus Park court. “We tried to keep kids off the streets.”
The legends are keeping it going for new generations, setting up a foundation to help sponsor local youth teams in any sport and help kids participate.
Back in the day, pro players and top prospects from Westchester and beyond would come to the Mamaroneck court to show off their moves and assess the talent on display.
“People used to take the train up, watch the games and then get back on the train,” said Solazzo. “It was a destination.”
Rivalries could be fierce. “Howard was definitely my enemy on the court,” said Solazzo. “There was a great passion for playing and we really wanted to win, but off the court, we were good friends.”
Legends who appeared on Saturday included Daymon and Keith Yizar, Johnny Erwin, Jim “Shake and Bake” Blake and Larry Albert.
Danny Flowers evoked the uncertainty after the King assassination and related how Carrington taught him and his colleagues on the Mamaroneck Youth Council to work with the village to get the court established and make it a success.
During warm ups, some guys hit shots automatically; others grimaced as they put up air balls and routinely clanked the rim. Participants exchanged lots of hugs and high-fives.
The first legends game featured outside sharpshooting from Ramon Rivera and a smooth inside move by Solazzo. Players engaged in impressive teamwork as players kept the offensive flow going and opened up the floor.
David Vaughan, who provided courtside play-by-play back in the heyday, maintained a running commentary that poked fun at the age of the players.
“Fast breaks are now walk ups,” he quipped. When one drive to the basket ended in a pass, he said, “the mind thought about it but the body said ‘no.’”
During the 13 and under exhibition—featuring players coached by Jordan, sneakers squeaked on the asphalt— underscoring the difference in play between the legends and the future stars.
Before the games began, Mayor Norm Rosenblum issued a proclamation on behalf of two former police chiefs, Joseph DelBianco and Louis Lifrieri, who supported the court.
DelBianco recalled his days as a youth officer dealing with the influence of drinking and drugs on the adolescent population. “We didn’t know how to deal with it, so we asked for help,” he said. He reached out for help to local civic leaders and clergy, who all touted the virtues of the basketball court.
“I rubber-stamped anything that went on over here,” he said. “Wain Carrington had a dream to build this court and then the leagues became organized. It became a place that embodies our democracy, where people learn the rules, set goals and go for it.”