To the Editor:

I’ll admit, prior to this past November, I had never heard the words “box out” or “screen.”  I’ll also admit that after watching my daughter’s last 10 basketball games, I still don’t get it.  The whistle blows and the referee gives a hand signal to the volunteers keeping the books, and I have to wait and see which bench claps to know if the call is in our team’s favor or not.  But what I do get is that being part of a team is an experience every child deserves to have.  

I watch as a player takes a free throw.  She misses.  Her teammate gives her a quick pat on the hand.  She takes the next one.  Swoosh.  A few seconds later, another player catches the rebound (that much I have learned), she dribbles down the court, she passes, another player scores.  There’s a little smile and a quick high-five.  Another player is tripped, she doesn’t get right up, and her teammates comes right over to offer a helping hand.  

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There’s more that happens on that court than free throws and fouls and two- and three-point shots.  There’s exercise, there’s team building, there’s confidence building.  The list goes on and on.  Supportive parents are watching their child learn to play a sport they played and loved, or perhaps are just learning but still loving, like me.  Parent coaches, who volunteer at least 10 hours of their time each week, after work, after taking care of their own kids, bring out the best these young athletes have to offer, individually and as part of a team.  And perhaps most importantly, there’s no social media, no YouTube, and no iPhones.  

I also learned, this past November, that the future of programs, such as our recreational and travel basketball programs, is going to be threatened by a decision that Chatham Township Committee made (more or less) behind closed doors.  That decision is well known – the one in which the Chatham Township Municipal Building will be “turned over” to a developer for affordable housing.  According to the township, the plan is to “save” Mountainview Gym and the Senior Center of the Chathams.  But even if the gym is saved, it will be out of use for a period of time.  Let’s use two years as a conservative estimate.

Currently, 750 children participate in the Chatham Basketball Club between the travel and the recreation leagues and the Club hosts 22 travel teams.  Even though there are 22 travel teams, this still doesn’t allow the opportunity for every child that wants to play in the travel league to do so.  This is not due to a lack of volunteers, but to our already limited gym space.  Per the tryout email, “IT IS CHATHAM BASKETBALL'S GREATEST CHALLENGE/REGRET THAT WE LACK GYM SPACE TO ACCOMMODATE ALL CHILDREN WHO WANT TO PLAY TRAVEL BASKETBALL.”  Mountainview Gym is used on average 20-25 hours a week by the Chatham Basketball Club (for both the travel and recreation leagues) and taking the gym out of service will have a dramatic impact on the program.  The Club, which has already had to rent gym space at a private school to accommodate all practices, will not be able to host the same number of teams without Mountainview Gym, and even fewer kids will make teams.

Mountainview Gym’s usage isn’t limited to just basketball.  Other athletic programs, such as wrestling, baseball and softball, utilize this gym.  In fact, Mountainview Gym is home to the Chatham Youth Wrestling Program.  In the past two years, over 52,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies were delivered to the Mountainview Gym, yielding approximately $40,000 in proceeds for our local troops, which in turn are used to sponsor projects directly benefiting our community.  And let’s not forget the Chatham Education Foundation’s Trivia Night fundraiser, which is hosted at Mountainview Gym, and together with Fish & Game, brought in $24,000 for our schools in 2019 alone.  

During the Chatham Township Committee special meeting on Affordable Housing on January 7th, 2020, a statement was made that the Municipal Building does have value, but “not too sure how much in the condition that it’s in.”  I don’t know, my house needs a new furnace, it needs new windows, and the roof needs a repair.  But I’m not tearing it down, and I’m certainly not “giving it away.”  Despite its flaws, my house has a ton of value, beyond just its dollar value.  It’s in a terrific neighborhood, surrounded by wonderful people that brought me dinner for a month when I had my third child, despite the fact that we had just moved in six weeks prior and they barely knew me.  It’s in a neighborhood that every holiday season, gets together and takes up a collection and makes the magic of the holidays possible for a family in need.  It’s in a neighborhood that once a week, makes it possible to get together and laugh and be reminded of how lucky we are to live where we do.

There is value to the Municipal Building that goes beyond the structure itself.  Its value is that it affords our children the opportunity to develop themselves as athletes and team members; it lets our seniors come together and enjoy each other’s company; it provides a showcase for the talented artists in our community; it is the hub of major fundraisers for organizations that directly give back to our community.   And what if we find ourselves in need of a new school in the future?  Although it may have been cheaper years ago to “add a second story” to the schools, to the best of my knowledge, at least four of our six schools already have a second story.  And adding a floor onto a school isn’t a project that gets done over the summer.

Our mayor, Mike Kelly, stated that the Chatham Township Municipal Building was “far bigger than we need.”  I disagree.  The value that comes out of that building is far too big to lose, even if only for a few years.  

Erin Burgo

Chatham Township