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West New York touts successful recreation basketball program despite COVID-19 challenges

The program hit bumps in the road due to COVID-19, but ended strong, officials said

COVID-19 posed problems for the program, but the town persisted and ended strong, according to officials. Image via Shutterstock.

West New York is proud of its recreation basketball program, and the other programs related to the basketball program that are moving forward.

Officials praised the program, following a synopsis of the season by coordinator and coach Hiram Gonzalez. Gonzalez broke down the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the program at the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 6, held in-person at the West New York Elementary School auditorium for the first time in many months due to the virus.

“Our basketball program recently ended,” Gonzalez said. “Just to give you a general synopsis, prior to 2019, our general attendance was somewhere between 100 to 150 participants.”

According to Gonzalez, hundreds of kids partook in the program but that came to halt with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. 

“We shut down for the entire year of 2020,” Gonzalez said. “Unfortunately, we were the only sport that got shut down for the entire year.”

Program saw post-COVID resurgence

After being out of commission for a year, Gonzalez was worried about the future of the program amid the virus.

“We were very concerned coming back,” Gonzalez said. “But I’m very happy proud to say that we had over 200 participants sign up. For the first time ever, at our youngest level we were able to put six teams together. I’ve been involved with the program over the last 10 years, so that was a great achievement for us.” 

According to Gonzalez, the record number of over 200 participants allowed the program to continue without issue, until COVID-19 surged again.

“We were able to have four teams at our mid-age level,” Gonzalez said. “We also provide All Star team services, which we participate in four different leagues: the North Jersey Basketball League, the South Bergen Basketball League, and two tournaments in Cliffside Park. Unfortunately, this year we had to cancel it again, but we usually participate in the tournament between the state of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia.” 

Program expansion continues unabated

The program has also expanded to allow girls, Gonzalez said.

“In the last three years, we decided we would start a program which allows girls. If there’s enough involvement and interest, we also involved them in the same type of leagues. 

While that program started off promising, it also shut down due to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, during the December and January time frame, we had to shut down for a month,” Gonzalez said. “So we didn’t  get to come back. But it showed a lot of promise. On the first day we opened it, we had 15 players show up. That’s the most we’ve ever had.”

Some of the programs were able to come back after COVID-19, while others suffered during the months lapse in the program. 

“Lastly, we also have an AU clinic,” Gonzalez said. “At the end of 2019, we had about 20 to 25 participants. The very first day that way opened back up, we had 55 people show up. It was the biggest we ever had. Unfortunately, because of the shutdown in the 30 days before Christmas and New Year’s, they didn’t all return. But we ended in the middle of March between 25 and 30 active participants.” 

Ending on a high note

According to Gonzalez, the program ultimately ended strong in March.

“I was honored and blessed to be a part of it,” Gonzalez said, thanking those who helped make everything possible including Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez, Commissioner of Public Affairs Cosmo Cirillo, Director of Recreation Jorge Gomez, the coaches, and other recreation employees who helped.

“Our staff members are there practically six days a week, helping run the program, that the games get started on time and everything is taken care of,” Gonzalez said. He also touted the free program without participation or uniform fees, which he said is not common: “I thank the Mayor and Commissioners that we don’t have a single fee that we charge. We don’t collect a single dime.”

Rodriguez commended the Recreation Department under Cirillo. 

“We’re providing these services to our community now more than ever, where things are opening up and we need to provide activities for our youth,” Rodriguez said. “Clearly this is something that the parents appreciate, our basketball program. We wanted to expand this program, and you guys are doing that.” 

Other recreation opportunities ahead

In addition, other programs related to the basketball program are moving forward, according to Rodriguez.

“We’re opening up open gym,” Rodriguez said. “We’re doing a men’s basketball league now. After everything that has happened, we need to provide recreational programs for all of our youth, including our young adults and our adults. It’s what we need. I want to thank the Recreation Department for stepping up and expanding that program.” 

Cirillo thanked Gonzalez for helping oversee the program. 

“He’s been an outstanding coordinator for us, specifically the basketball under the leadership of Recreation Director Jorge Gomez,” Cirillo said. “It takes a lot of dedicated people to make these programs happen. Luckily here in West New York, we have people that step up to the plate.”

Now that the basketball program has ended, Rodriguez also touted the opening of Little League Baseball in the town. He noted that they will not have to pay uniform fees either, continuing a practice started last year. 

Rodriguez emphasized that programs like these are essential as things “normalize” again after the most recent COVID-19 surge. 

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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