SOMERVILLE, NJ – Wallace Gantt is all about helping kids and having a good time, keeping it loose and keeping it simple.
Gantt is a 1980 graduate of Somerville High School. He was an all-state football player in his high school days, a hard-hitting cornerback, but for the past several years, his focus has been on a different sport.
The basketball tournament he first organized several years ago reflects his personality, his attitude and philosophy.
The tournament, now in its 11th year, doesn’t have a name or big-time sponsor. There are no trophies for the winners. That’s not what is important, according to Gantt.
Simple. Home grown. No entitlements. No complications.
“We’ve tried to keep it that way,” Gantt said. “We didn’t want any ‘Big Box’ store donations, we want the people who live in Somerville to support the tournament, the residents who live in town to donate stuff, whatever they can.”
In the days and weeks leading up to the tournament, Gantt drives around town, stopping off at homes and businesses to pick up donations, an oddball assortment of school supplies, backpacks, Frisbees, hats, notepads, pens, flashlights, first aid kits – whatever it is that people have to give.
Several hundred people are expected for the Saturday, July 29th tournament at Michael Lepp Park, 21 Park Ave. There will be at least four games, beginning at noon. Gantt doesn’t expect the crowd will begin breaking up until 6 p.m.
There are 8 teams, and for the first time, one is an all-female team composed of former Somerville High School basketball players.
The main purpose of the tournament is to collect school supplies, according to Gantt.
“We want everyone to feel that they are part of it,” Gantt continued. We don’t get political with it, we’ve got no agenda. We just want the kids and the parents to have a nice time.”
There is no game plan. Jump ball to get things started and after that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Gantt calls long time community activist Joanne Procter, well-known to everyone at the tournament “The Arbiter.”
“She’s cool, she’s got a great sense of humor, she sits there in this big recliner, a big King Tut-like chair she’s like Judge Judy, when somebody’s got a problem, or they don’t like the ref’s call, we stop the game, and we say, ‘let’s go to the chairperson.’
“They start pleading their case – ‘I went up for a layup and got hit, he should have called a foul,’ she plays the role, you know, she’ll say ‘yeah, he got hit, but I didn’t see it, so play ball.’
“It’s just a fun-filled day,” Gantt said.
This is street ball, lots of trash talk; rules are enforced arbitrarily, but hey, it’s not all about the game, it’s about having fun, Gantt emphasizes.
Keeping score is not a priority.
“Nah, there’s no trophies, if you win, you just win, you know what I’m sayin’ just bragging rights, that way you keep the tournament simple, you ain’t getting no trophy and you ain’t getting no banner if you win, congratulations, we’ll see you next year, and you know, it works out good that way,” Gantt said.
The kids who play – they got game, and they got heart, according to Gantt.
Gantt is a member of the Aldridge B. Cooper Sr. Mason Lodge #69 and that’s where the idea for the tournament started.
Club #69 of the A.B. Cooper, Sr. Lodge #69, P.H.A. and it sister organization, Keturah, O.E.S. Eastern Star Club #63 take care of the permits and insurance for the tournament and provide the food and drink.
“We formed a Boys’ Club at the lodge, a lot of kids didn’t have both parents in their house and the whole thing is there wasn’t much for the kids to do so we started the club,” Gantt explained. “We used to have parties on Friday nights for the kids; they had to bring their report cards if they wanted to get in for free, we were just trying to make them accountable for something, you know,” he added.
“This is my baby but it’s not my tournament. It belongs to the community,” said Gantt, who has three sons, one of them a New Jersey State Trooper.
His son gathers together friends from his college fraternity to play in the tournament; there’s a team from Middle Earth, and a women’s team, all of whom played together at Somerville High School. Another team calls itself the OG’s – Old Guys.
Mayor Brian Gallagher also plays in the tournament with a team he puts together.
This year, however, he’ll be on the bench coaching the team; he’s on the disabled list, with a pinched nerve in his neck.
“Even though I’m benched, this year, I’ll be there,” Gallagher said. “I love this game, I really do. I’ll be back next year, you can count on it.”
Though Gallagher will once again enter a team in the tournament, the team doesn’t have a name.
“We’ll figure that out on the fly tomorrow,” he said.
“They’re not very good, but we let them play,” Gantt said, laughing.
“We have a lot of little kids hanging around there, they really can’t play so we’ll call a time out, let the kids come out on the on court and shoot, maybe have a contest, give them something, it makes them feel good, kind of special,” Gantt said.
“You want to donate, go across the street there to the store and buy a couple cans of soda, bring it back over here and we’ll give it to the kids,” he said.
Last year the Somerville police stopped by, popped the trunk of their patrol car and donated 15 book bags.
“Bring everybody down, we’re going to have hot dogs, barbeque stuff, drinks; bring some school supplies, clothes, we’ve got a couple of barbers in town who are going to give away free haircuts so some of the kids will get the complete package.
“We just hope that some of this goodness rubs off on one or two of the kids,” Gantt said. “That’s what it’s all about, the kids.”
There is no website or Facebook page, but donors with school supplies, other goods or services can contact Gantt at (732) 491-6095.