The Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament will not take place this year.
In an email sent late last night, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the state will not allow the tournament to go forward.
Aguiar said Riverhead Recreation Superintendent Ray Coyne yesterday requested an exemption from the state’s phase four restrictions, which ban “competitive tournaments of multiple games, meets, matches, or scrimmages requiring travel” for “higher risk sports” including basketball.
In an email sent at 10:27 p.m. to the town board and police chief, Aguiar wrote: “All, unfortunately the State denied the Basketball tournament from taking place on August 8 and 9th. Ray put in the request today and was denied.” She also copied the email to RiverheadLOCAL, which reported on the tournament plans and the town decision to seek an exemption.
Stop the Violence cofounder and organizer Dwayne Eleazer could not immediately be reached for comment this morning.
Yesterday afternoon, Eleazer said with the tournament just two weeks away, he wouldn’t be able to wait much longer for a final decision. Teams were already signed up and he’d already ordered 100 personalized uniform shirts for players, he said. He later said he was able to put a hold on the shirt order.
Eleazer met with the town board at its work session yesterday to discuss a potential CARES Act grant through the community development department. The meeting, which Eleazer attended via video conference, was arranged by Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.
During the discussion, Eleazer updated the town board on his group’s plans for this year’s tournament, including COVID safety plans.
The two-day, double-elimination basketball tournament draws teams and spectators from across the region, which compete for substantial cash prizes. Eleazer told the board yesterday he had teams signed up from New Jersey and Connecticut.
The event typically draws a large crowd to the town park on Osborn Avenue, where the basketball court has been upgraded in recent years with a new epoxy surface and an electronic scoreboard, purchased with a donation from Columbia Care. Tournament organizers raised money for other amenities, such as cushions for backboard poles.
Board members praised Eleazer and tournament cofounder Larry Williams for their efforts to produce the tournament, first played in 2007. The town hosts the event at a town park and provides portable lavatories and other support.
No one at the town board meeting yesterday raised the issue of how New York’s COVID-19 restrictions might impact the tournament or prevent it from taking place this year. The town supervisor and board members told Eleazer they’d see him at the tournament on Aug. 8.
After the meeting, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said he wasn’t sure the tournament could go on this year. Current pandemic restrictions on gatherings over 50 people and many social and business activities has canceled a slew of events around town and across the region this summer, including festivals, races and fairs.
“As far as I know basketball is still prohibited,” Hegermiller said.
Town basketball courts and its hockey rink remain closed and sports and activities at other recreation facilities are limited.
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar after the meeting said the town would seek an exemption from the state to allow the tournament to go forward.
The goal of the tournament is to build bridges among people from different communities, fostering new friendships, in the hope that it will reduce violence in the community.
Eleazer, a 30-year resident of Riverhead, is passionate about providing opportunities for young people in the community.
He founded a nonprofit organization, Stop the Violence Long Island, which in December attained tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.
“We don’t want to just do a basketball tournament two weeks out of the year and be idle the rest of the year,” Eleazer said in an interview yesterday.
The tax-exempt status allows the organization access to funding that will allow it to run a variety of programs throughout the year, focusing especially on kids who can’t participate in sports — for a variety of reasons, including academics, physical abilities or a family’s financial wherewithal.
“We want to provide mentorship and role-models, to help lift kids up, to teach them about community involvement and civic engagement,” Eleazer said.
“We feel it’s time,” he said. “Riverhead is a melting pot.
Everybody lives in Riverhead. Everybody gets along in Riverhead.”
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