Basketball charity hopes to rebound

Lack of funds cancels popular charity's annual event

Since its inception, the Matthews Basketball Tournament has become popular among law enforcement and promotes as a high-end competition. “It’s very competitive because the bulk of participants are officers from New York,” says Matthews Jr. “When people come to play, they know they are going to play NYPD and NY corrections teams. These are true basketballers.” The high level of play makes the tournament unique and attractive to players.

Teams hail from all over the country. Most come from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Baltimore (Md.), Dallas and Houston. Matthews Jr. would like to see more teams and jurisdictions compete. “We’ve done fairly well over the years. We’ve had some good years and some bad years.” Unfortunately this year’s financial hardship extended to the court. “Teams weren’t able to pay until the day of the tournament,” says Matthews Jr. “But the fees for the gym and the referees have to be paid in advance. As a non-profit, we just weren’t able to do it.”

Financial blow

The cancelled tournament delivered a financial blow to the foundation. Each year tournament money funds several scholarships for community youth. “We give out scholarships to students to go into criminal justice,” says Matthews Jr. “We try to help those in financial need. We try to target those in less fortunate households. Every penny helps.”

In years past, the organization hosted a mentoring program for local middle schools utilizing officers from the Connecticut State Police, Waterbury Police Department and Connecticut Department of Corrections. “That changed the mindset with some of the kids. At the end, some of [them] say I think I’ll be a police officer or a corrections officer. When I talk to the kids who got scholarships, we talk to them about carrying themselves in a professional manner, respecting the community and not abusing authority. To get the community involved in the tournament is a hard sell, but I try;” Matthews Jr. says. “The truth is not everybody is law enforcement friendly.”

Chief Roberts agrees the foundation and the tournament are good tools. “It creates a connection and a positive relationship,” he states. “They see us as the bad guy. But with the tournament they get to see police officers as human beings. A child sees me as an officer that plays ball. It builds positive relationships.”

The amount of the scholarships depends on how much money is raised during the tournament and how much expense has been off-set by sponsors. “The years we have a sponsor are good years,” states Matthews Jr. He worries about what they’ll have to offer this year. No tournament means no scholarship.

A getaway & release

“One time I was thinking about not doing the tournament and one of the guys from NYPD who was in 9/11 heard that,” explains Matthews Jr. “He pulled me aside and said they look forward to coming to this tournament every year. It’s a release for them. It gives them a little time away from the job. It gives them a chance to network with different officers around the country. It’s a little time away from home. Just to get away. To do something they like to do for recreation.

“The tournament benefits the scholarship fund, but also the officers. When he brought it to me that way, I stood back and said I have to keep this going.” Even with the cancellation of this year’s tournament, Matthews Jr. is optimistic about the future. “We will continue to move forward, hoping for a sponsor for next year,” he says.

Uncertain future, rebound hopes

Matthews Jr. dreams of the day when the foundation is self-sufficient. “To be able to help without struggling to help. I’d like to find a sponsor that will stand by us and believe in what we’re doing and support us financially. I’ve been blessed a couple times to have sponsors. My dream was to have NIKE join forces with us and start a law enforcement league.” Two local sponsors have stood behind the Matthews Tournament for a number of years: Loehmann Blasius Cadillac-Chevrolet and Frankies Restaurants. “[They] helped us keep our neck above water and I’m grateful for that,” explains Matthews Jr.

Trotman agrees sponsorship would be a big help for the organization. “I hear Jimmie struggle for sponsorships,” he says. “We are constantly on the phone letting them know this is not a fly-by-night operation. Anything can help.”

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