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Kingz are Fairlawn Kingz

Waterbury Republican-American, Wednesday, October 25, 2005
by Joe Palladino

This was a backwards operation from the start. Usually, you form an AAU basketball team, charge exorbitant registration fees, and then you introduce community activities into the mix, sometimes, to give a kid a healthy dose of sport and social responsibility.

The Connecticut Kingz did it all wrong. They started with community involvement, then transformed in into a state championship basketball program.

The Kingz are a group of Waterbury kids who play basketball at Fairlawn Park.

You remember Fairlawn the park where the basketball court was on life support as plans were finalized for a $300,000 facelift.

The Kingz asked for help from that old guy who comes up for a run a few times a week. His name is Joe Summa and he's just your average member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. The kids looked to Joe for help one day when they told him, "They're taking our court away."

Summa, once a Waterbury kid, now a Waterbury attorney living in Prospect, a former basketball star at Sacred Heart High and Wesleyan University, swung into action. He got the kids to clean up the park, take ownership of the place, drive the punks out, and then assault city hall and demand, politely, for the court to be put back in the plans for new Fairlawn Park, which is now approaching completion.

It was a new frontier for public parks, with the newly formed Fairlawn Park Basketball Association (FPBA) putting up a web cam to monitor behavior. The neighbors grumbled about it all, but while they sat back and complained that a guy who left the neighborhood was behind all of this, Summa, the former Fairlawn kid, was getting stuff done. He got the police department to increase patrols, Community Officer Joe Padua became a regular presence at the park, and the fire fighters over at Engine 5 practically adopted the kids at the park.

Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-74, secured the money for the parks, and he admitted, before all this began he had no idea that Fairlawn Park existed. Now, the park is way beyond existing. It is thriving. For the kids infused with the call to action, thriving wasn't enough.

"We went to Joe and asked him to coach us," said Mark Ward, a Crosby sophomore, and one of the original FPBA activist who stood before the Park Board that first night.

Summa, surprised by the request, agreed. He didn't know at the time that he just filled up three nights of his week and every weekend for six months coaching the Kingz, a team ranging in age from 14 to 16, playing in leagues for teams 18 and under.

They entered two teams in the Nutmeg State Games, and the U-15 bunch won the title. Last week they received a letter from the governor, a citation from the mayor, eight pizzas that were inhaled over at WARC. Officer Padua was there, and Engine 5, and Selim, and Joe Geary from the mayor's office, and Crosby coach Nick Augelli, who will coach many of these players in the high school season.

It was an AAU program unlike most AAU programs: it was free. Who paid tournaments and league fees? Beats me. I have a guess though.

AAU ball is a money maker, remember that, and it lures in kids with the promise that their talent will be discovered. The Kingz made a backwards AAU promise: It cost nothing and offered a different kind of discovery, self discovery.

"This gave us a very good background for basketball," said Gary Madison, another of the program's original members and a Crosby junior. "But it also taught us values. It's been good for us as players, but it has also been good for us as people."

You can take the kid out of Waterbury, but you can never take Waterbury out of the kid. Summa doesn't want credit for any of this. OK, we won't give him any. It's all the kids. They cleaned the park. They fought city hall. They chased away the thugs. They won the basketball games.

Reach Joe Palladino at [email protected]

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Kingz are Fairlawn Kings With hard work and persistence, anything is possible. With help from a few dedicated members of the community, a motivated group of Waterbury kids were able to turn their fading dreams into a vibrant reality.
Waterbury park gets boost from technology Internet technology allows curious kids and concerned parents a sneak peek into what is going on at Fairlawn Park - any time of day. Technology donated by local companies is just one of the many tactics used to clean up the park.
U-15 Nutmeg Games Champions The Connecticut Kingz 15-under team won the gold medal at the 2006 Nutmeg State Games! The Kingz beat the Bridgeport-based Connecticut Future Stars 54-51 in an intense and exciting overtime game.
Coming Soon - Open gym periods at Waterbury ARC
Spring 2007 - Park Opens
May 2007 - T-Shirts and pledge sign ups for Fairlawn Park Basketball Association
View the CT Kingz Schedule
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