SOMERVILLE, NJ - Middle School Principal Georgette Boulegeris was bursting with pride Wednesday night, exchanging hugs with former students who’ve since moved on to pursue careers, further their educations or nurture young families.
More than once, she was at a loss for words.
“My heart is so full of joy right now,” she said as basketball players young and old warmed up on the court behind her in the school gymnasium.
Many of the older players, those with jobs and families, had gone to school here, and had played basketball for the Bulldogs on the same court, including Mason Robinson, 27, Arthur Morrison, 27 and Marques Jackson, 24.
The principal had invited them to organize Wednesday night’s Hoops for Heart event, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
“I am so proud of all you guys,” she said, as the bleachers in the gymnasium continued to fill with spectators.
Robinson, Morrison and Jackson are all cousins; they have deep roots in the borough, and care deeply about those who now sit and learn in the same classrooms where they did.
It’s why Boulegeris asked them to return to the school, to the gym where they all played a game while learning life’s lessons - how to win, how to lose, respect for oneself and respect for others.
“They are such wonderful role models,” Boulegeris said, “just look at what they’re doing, giving back to the community, working with the children.”
For them, Wednesday night was more than a fundraiser and bigger than the game. It was an opportunity for the cousins to give back, to motivate, to be an example for the young Bulldogs.
Before taking the court, Robinson took the microphone to speak to the parents and the 7th and 8th graders wearing the red and white Bulldog uniforms.
“You’ve got to get the kids comfortable with the adults,” he said. “It takes a community to raise a kid.”
He then turned his attention to Somerville Police Officer Vito Spadea, the department’s community outreach officer who had come to the game to show his support.
“We respect you and appreciate you for what you bring to the community,” Robinson said.
The two embraced after Robinson concluded his remarks.
Robinson is a graduate of Somerville High School who earned All-State honors as a track star before moving on to Rutgers University where he played football and was team captain, moving on to the NFL where he played with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s also the new track coach at his high school alma mater.
Morrison was a student at the Middle School, but attended Bridgewater High School, where he was a standout basketball player on teams that won three straight county championships. A 6’7” swingman, his athletic career continued at Caldwell College, where he averaged double digits each season before graduating and signing a contract to play professional basketball in Portugal, where he averaged 16.4 points a game in 2013.
Jackson, 24, is an actor and comic and produces a trademark web TV series, “Just Another Day.” He’s extended the trademark into a line of clothing, hats, shorts, sweats and other apparel. He’s off to Los Angeles in April for a few weeks to work on a feature film, with a TV appearance in the not-so-distant future.
Robinson is a professional athletics trainer, and works with teams and individuals in several sports, soccer, football, softball and others, helping young athletes earn scholarships to college. He also markets a line of sportswear on his website.
Morrison formed a non-profit corporation, Above Maximum Sports Training that has a variety of specialties – after school basketball programs in 5 NJ school districts; helping AAU teams, running clinics and fundraisers to acquire athletic equipment, and donating clothing and sports gear to countries overseas. He also markets team and company apparel.
“We do a lot of things similar to Mason,” Morrison said. “We’re probably each other’s biggest support system.”
The cousins can each be contacted through their websites:
Jackson - lesstalkingmoreaction.com
Morrison - abovemaxsports.org
Robinson – shocktheworldpro.com