A Day Fit for a King – Basketball and Scholarship
By Eugene Stewart
LONG BRANCH – Four years ago at an NAACP meeting at the Bucky James Community Center in downtown Long Branch, Lorenzo “Billy” Dangler, branch president, shared his vision for a fundraising event. Blending several elements of the community to benefit the next generation, Dangler captured the interest of his fellow NAACP members. This event could marry a couple of local civic organizations, some local businesses, co-ed high school basketball talent and the basketball faithful of the area to benefit deserving high school students from across Monmouth County in their pursuit of higher education.
“Creating opportunities to help young people heading off to school with a few dollars for books, supplies or simple odds and ends” sparked this idea. The discussion at the meeting was very spirited and encouraging and on that Saturday morning, The Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Basketball Classic was born.
With the first Classic played on the day designated for the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, the third Monday of January 2017, Long Branch High School played host to both girls and boys high school teams from across north and central New Jersey. Eight teams enrolled, making for four games on the day. The idea was well received and in the first year of the Classic, the fundraiser was deemed a success. Funds generated were used to assist the Greater Long Branch NAACP, the Martin Luther King Guild of Long Branch and the W.E.B. DuBois Economic Corporation to provide book scholarships for selected freshmen heading off to college in the fall. The scholarships have been distributed during the Greater Long Branch NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet, held annually in the fall as well.
“Each year, we get a little bigger, have more hoops fans attend and grow the Classic. This makes it easier to fund our scholarships and put some money into the hands of the kids heading off to school. This is what it’s all about,” stated Dangler. Scholarships distributed to the youth over the years range between $100-$200 per student since the inception of the Classic.
This year’s version of the Classic paired Bridgewater against Red Bank Regional, Ridge against Asbury Park, Toms River North vs. Jackson Memorial, Long Branch vs. Roselle Catholic (girls), Marist vs. Matawan, and closing out the day was host Long Branch boys against Rumson-Fair Haven. Twelve teams paired to make for six games, with the day beginning at 10am ending at 8pm. Attendance averaged 150-250 per game.
There are many moving pieces to bring together a showcase such as this. There is no shortage to the number of people and organizations who are responsible for the successful day this year. Volunteers from the NAACP and MLK Guild of Greater Long Branch work with staff from LBHS with facilities, contacted athletic directors and coaches to secure teams for the showcase, and engaged local well-known DJ Skills, who provided a musical reprieve during play stoppage through the entire day. In addition, staffing of the snack stand provided an opportunity for local youth to obtain volunteer hours for high school and college pursuits.
“This helps to create an overall positive day for the entire community. The Dr. King’s birthday holiday is designed to be a day of service. This is just another way to do that,” said Dangler.
“We want to be the place to be in the tri-state area on Dr. King’s birthday for the best the area has to offer in high school basketball, boys and girls,” said Dangler when asked about the future of the Classic. “The better the matchups, the more people come out, the more scholarships we can fund. We’d love to give out $500-$1,000 scholarships. We’ll get there soon.”
For additional information about the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Basketball Classic either participating as a team, sponsor a component of the event or as a scholarship donor, contact Dangler at (877) 530-0067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Teams are already being sought for the fifth annual event in 2021.