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10/28/08

Who Will Save the On Point Cyclones?

After 50 years of existence, Saint Cecilia’s basketball program for underprivileged Greenpoint kids is in dire need of money.

By Alexis Buisson

Marlo Carcamo goes to church every Sunday and, with the same fervor, attends his eleven-year-old son’s basketball training with Saint Cecilia’s On Point Cyclones twice a week. “I used to play a lot in my childhood. Now my five-year-old wants to play,” he smiles. When he is seven, Carcamo is likely to sign him up for the Cyclones.

For over half a century, the On Point Cyclones, Saint Cecilia’s Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) and Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball program, has allowed underprivileged children from ages seven to fourteen to break free from life in the projects. “It’s an out from Greenpoint. Why can’t the kids here live something bigger?” asked Anne Pinto, the Cyclone’s athletic director since 1991 and a Greenpoint native.

Even if she proudly boasts the Cyclones’ achievements, she insists that basketball is not about winning trophies. “Education comes first!” she says. ”Since I arrived, we’ve sent 10-15 kids to good high schools with basketball scholarships. My goal is to keep them off the streets, help them get to good high schools and to college.”

Today, along with sixteen other volunteers from the Youth Advisory Board, she works from “7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.” to prepare the gym and supervise the 200 children who train every day.

UNCERTAINTIES

But as the 2007-2008 season comes to an end, the On Point Cyclones are faced with overwhelming rental, equipment and tournament registration costs and wonders how long they will be able to stay in that situation.

While the CYO teams are confined to local tournaments, the AAU teams, which travel to various states and colleges for competitions, generate significant expenses. Traveling costs average $2,000 to $5,000 per tournament, including lodging, food, transportation and tournament fees. “Our biggest expenses are tournaments,” says Pinto. “I can’t ask a parent to pay $850 for tournament registration when I know he won’t be able to eat the next day.”

The gym, which is rented by the Saint Cecilia parish for the Cyclone’s AAU trainings twice a week, is also in dire need of an overhaul. The 30-year-old fireproof curtains still await replacement. The floor is warped and cracked because of the water dripping from the leaking roof. “Mats, scoreboards, fridges, sneakers… Anything you name, we need it,” Rick Atson, Parties On Point DJ and chairman of the fundraising committee, said, showing the peeling paint in the gym’s kitchen and the decrepit bathroom.

The final bill amounts to $30,000 for next season, according to a letter sent this summer to several local companies and politicians. Pinto estimates that at least $40,000 is necessary to cover the AAU teams’ traveling and equipment expenses while making necessary improvements to the gym.

LOCAL SPONSOR

Pinto says the Cyclones are partly victims of their own success.

Last year, the under-10 CYO team, “The Novice Boys,” captured the Brooklyn and Queens championship, the highest honor in their category, with an historic 54 wins to 1 loss. For the upcoming season, Pinto has high expectations for her AAU section: the over-12 AAU team will be playing nationals for the first time—the competition is slated to start in January.

Because of the teams’ outstanding performances last year, Pinto is expecting at least 14 CYO teams—versus nine today—and an additional five to seven AAU teams for the upcoming season starting this fall. “My problem is that I can’t say ‘no’ to a kid who shows up,” Pinto says. “I can’t send a kid back to the streets. I just can’t do that.”

According to Pinto, only a sponsor would be able to keep the gym afloat. “What we really need is a local sponsor. A bank or an oil company. Someone big,” she says. “We need to raise as much money as possible to keep as many children as possible off the streets.”

But, in sluggish economic times, a mere $1,500 has been raised so far. “One problem we are facing is that even if we are a 501(c)(3) organization [the not-for-profit tax exemption status], we are still associated with the church,” Atson pointed out. “The church is in deficit. We give the church money.”

When asked what will happen if the Cyclones cannot raise enough money, Pinto pauses and says, “We will have to raise registration fees, which would be horrible because the boys can’t pay.”

Pinto believes that the main problem is awareness. “I have asked politicians and sponsors to come to the gym,” she said. “They don’t know how great these kids are.”

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