BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Basketball in Lebanon? For Sweep The Streets it’s a front, a hook, a vehicle.
On the surface, Sweep The Streets is a very positive community event. Not only does it get kids – young adults? – off the streets, it brings people to Lebanon, it brings people to together and it gets them outside doing something.
But beneath the surface, behind the scenes, in places where people don’t see, Sweep The Streets is making a difference in a different way. It is affecting young people’s lives at their most critical junctures, and it is making Lebanon a better place to live.
On a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the city’s Southeast Park on Walnut Street, the 16-team, double-elimination, two-day Sweep The Streets outdoor basketball tournament concluded its tenth successful ‘run’. And while athletic A+ Bail Bonds was busy winning the championship of the event in its first try, with a 33-28 triumph over Sound Design, something more important but less measurable was going on off the macadam.
Behind the play of tournament MVP Brandon Danner, mostly Harrisburg-Lebanon based A+ Bail Bonds defeated Detail Sound for the coveted title. The championship game victory completed A+ Bail Bonds’ 5-o run through the event, with hundreds of local hoop crazies looking on.
“The tournament built the brand,” said George ‘Gzo’ Rodriguez, Sweep The Street’s charismatic organizer and founder. “We’re not bigger than basketball. We represent kids who need help getting back into society. You need basketball for kids to accept you. It’s a trust thing with kids.
“Right now we’re using the proceeds to have kids experience things they’ve never experienced,” continued Rodriguez. “We want to help them open their minds. Now we take this money and let them see things they’ve never experienced, things like horses and nature. Hats off to our volunteers and our sponsors. Nothing’s going to stop us. We’re going to keep doing it.”
“It was good. It was a good experience,” said Danner of the event. “Street ball is where it all started. It’s where you learned how to dribble. It’s where you learned how to fight through contact. It’s where you learned to win.”
“I play because I like basketball,” said Sound Design guard Sam Light, himself one of Lebanon’s street-ball legends and a member of the Lebanon Valley College Men’s basketball squad. “It’s just different being outside. Shooting is a little harder. The courts are a little smaller. There’s a little more contact. I guess it’s street ball. It’s just different.”
In the championship final, A + Bail Bonds, which had knocked off Jersey Devils in the undefeated tilt, used team work and an early flurry to get out to a quick lead. Though Sound Design would never go away, A + Bail Bonds had an answer for every probe, and never relinquished the lead.
For Sound Design, it was its second runner-up finish in as many years.
“If you win your games on the first day, it makes it smoother,” said Rodriguez. “But you’ve still got to fight through the bracket. It was a great event. It was great competition. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. We learn something new every year.
“After ten years, you start to learn what does work and what doesn’t work,” Rodriguez continued. “A lot of planning goes into it. Every year we expect a great turnout. We learn how to make it bigger and better every year.”
“Coming in, we felt we were the best team,” said Danner. “If we would’ve lost we would’ve been very disappointed.”
“We wanted to finish first,” said Light, who was playing in the tourney for a fifth straight year. “I think they (A + Bail Bonds) won because we were tired. I think we were as good as them. But there were a lot of people here and it’s good for the town. Basketball’s big in this town.”
One of the things the tournament’s proceeds goes toward is supporting Sweep The Streets’ on-going mission of aiding Lebanon High School students who have been suspended from school, supporting them while they’re away from the class room and helping them get back into it more quickly. Sweep The Streets also sponsors bike registrations for kids, among other activities.
And Sweep The Streets is literal as well as figurative. Another one of its initiatives is to clean up parks and littered areas in and around the city.
“When you think of Sweep The Streets, it’s more than a street-basketball tournament,” said Rodriguez. “We’re sweeping the streets of problems of kids, some who don’t have fathers. We’re sweeping it. And we actually do sweep streets.
“We’re ready to do it and we’re not gong to rest,” added Rodriguez. “We want to fight for kids. There’s a lot of people in Lebanon who care about what we do. We don’t ask for much. Maybe it’s time we ask for a little help.”
Teams plucked down a $350 entry fee to compete in Sweep The Streets. The tournament also solicited sponsorships ranging in price from $100 to $500 to $1,000 to $2,500.
“After the event is said and done, we realize about $2,000, just because it costs so much to run it,” said Rodriguez. “Two grand for us is a positive thing. In earlier years it was less. In the first couple of years it was $500 or $1,000. It goes to the kids. It helps out kids.
“The first year, it was like ‘let’s try it,'” Rodriguez added. “The second year, it was like, ‘it’s working.’ Then we got more people involved. From there it was seven, eight. nine years. Now it’s like a decade.”
With a solid foundation upon which to peer into the future, it may be time for Sweep The Streets to take it to the next level. ‘Turning obstacles into opportunities’.
“We were at a backyard barbecue and we said, ‘Lebanon needs a street-ball tournament,'” said Rodriguez of co-founders Robert Cleapor and Angel Cruz. “We’re a big ball town and a big athletic town. And the best place to have it is here (Southeast), it’s the mecca of basketball in Lebanon. Street ball is so competitive. It’s not your average tournament.
“My vision is to someday have more teams,” continued Rodriguez. “I always think bigger and better. Here at the park, we’ve pretty much maxed out what we can do.”
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