We can’t speak for or against the quality of skill instruction or the efficiency of the sponsored youth basketball leagues at Peak Sports Academy on Route 22 in Mountainside.
But if you happen to see that facility offering classes on, say, clock management, teamwork or performing under intense pressure, allow us to offer some advice.
Run, don’t walk, and sign your child (or yourself) up.
Because if the off-the-cuff, this-is-not-a-drill performance of owner John McGuire and his staff on Sunday would be any indication of Peak’s instruction on those skill sets, you would be in for a master-class experience.
To capsulize, a backboard at Roselle Catholic was shattered by a pre-game dunk prior to a game between New York rivals Monsignor Scanlan and Archbishop Stepinac, the first of three Sunday national-level matchups in The Battle in Jersey showcase, one of which involved the second-ranked Lions.
There are two certified glass backboards at the RC Lions’ Den, and that thundering dunk that would have made the late Darryl Dawkins proud had just cut the inventory in half. So, games over, right?
Well, no, because Peak came to the rescue – or rather hosted the rescue – with some quick thinking and rearranging by McGuire and his staff, the incredible cooperation and coordination of the Mountainside Police Department to manage traffic flow, parking and security and a near 16-hour shift turned in by facility manager Kevin Perez.
“It was truly unbelievable,” Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said. “There were 800-900 people here when the backboard broke and some teams that came a long way to be here. This was just a lot of people coming together, working together to pull off a big change. To be able to make that type of switch on a Sunday afternoon and involving so many people, I still can’t believe everyone was able to pull it off.”
That’s CliffsNotes summary of the showcase that almost didn’t happen. But parts of the back story are also definitely worth mentioning.
That glass-busting dunk occurred just before 1:30 p.m. And by 2 p.m. or so, both the showcase organizer, Gold Level Sports & Entertainment and Roselle Catholic were about ready to cancel the event, since the school had no replacement backboard on hand and was unable to readily find another school that could fill such a need.
Meanwhile, there are six basketball teams, those roughly 900 spectators and a broadcast team from NBC sitting in and around the Lions’ Den anxiously awaiting word on the next move, which was likely to be to simply send everyone home.
Home was a long way away for just about every team but Boff’s. South Shore from Brooklyn, RC’s opponent, was the closest to Roselle at 28 miles, followed by Monsignor Scanlan at 34 and Stepinac at 58. But the third game was a hotly anticipated clash between Vertical Academy of Charlotte, N.C, featuring junior phenom Mikey Williams, and Keystone Athletic Academy of Erie, Pa. That’s 600 miles south and 430 miles northwest from Union County.
“With those teams traveling from out of state to here and with NBC here with all their personnel and announcers, we decided we really should exhaust all options,” Boff said.
“First, we spent about 45 minutes to an hour trying to locate a new backboard to install. On a Sunday, that becomes impossible,” Boff said. “Then we began looking to alternate sites (nearby schools) to move to. Again, Sunday afternoon. No luck there.”
“Our attention then turned to a private facility, and I immediately thought about John. Our kids were involved there in summer and fall leagues, and they had good experiences,” Boff said. “He was super receptive.”
An eighth-grade girls basketball game that McGuire would be coaching at Peak was just about to start when Boff made that call. It was a little after 2 p.m.
“Dave told me the backboard was shattered and he was in a real bind,” McGuire explained. “I told him I thought I could help him, and I got him in touch with Kevin Perez, our facility manager, to see what we could do on our side to make that happen for the kids.”
McGuire, incidentally, coached that eight-grade game, and then immediately shifted into owner overdrive to assist the already fully ensconced Perez and Jennifer Murray, the facility’s director of operations and human resources. Her original Sunday duty would have been to arrive at 4 to relieve Perez, who opened the doors at 7:30 a.m. Seems McGuire also squeezed in a call to Murray just before his eighth-graders tipped off.
“We’d never done something of this scope,” Murray said. “We had to clean and organize the different rooms for the teams to be ready and safe. We called in all of our other facility coordinators and staff to help with everything. It was a huge team effort.”
Through that effort, Roselle Catholic and South Shore were able to tip off at 5:45 Sunday, only a couple hours and change after that game was originally scheduled to tip at the Lions’ Den. Monsignor Scanlan and Stepinac wound up cancelling their game, but Vertical and Keystone played after RC vs. South Shore.
“From the time I called John to the time we were locked in and heading over there was probably 20 minutes to a half hour,” Boff said. “They were going to move some of their things around and give us one court. When they realized how big an event it was and that it was being live-streamed, they postponed the other things that were going on and were able to give us access to the entire facility.”
With one considerable caveat. Peak’s permitted capacity is 652, or a couple hundred fewer than what Roselle Catholic had just in terms of fans that day. That gave some of the Peak staffers the additional burden of being door bouncers.
“Every decision we make is for the safety of everyone. It was disappointing for us; I’ve been in that situation myself,” said Murray, who estimated the allowed crowd at about 500. Still, far more people that had ever been in the building at one time since its opening last Dec. 28.
“As uncomfortable as it was to turn people away, the reality is we were just making the best decision we possibly could in a tough situation like that,” she said.
And the reaction at the door of those who weren’t getting inside?
“Some were OK and some were not OK with the decision,” McGuire said.
Fans ringed the entire court for both games, which started and ended without a hitch, save for the fact that neither McGuire nor Murray, both big basketball fans, never got to see much of either contest. Roselle rolled behind the balanced scoring of brothers Tarik and Akil Watson, Simeon Wilcher and Jamarques Lawrence. Vertical edged Keystone in an up-and-down overtime thriller, 95-91.
“Peak is a facility that’s not really designed for something like this with so many spectators, but I have had conversations in the past with John about maybe doing something for a typical high school game and not just fall or summer leagues,” Boff said.
Boff, by the way, was not without a critical assignment in order to make this happen. He contacted the Mountainside Police to request their guidance and assistance. Probably doesn’t hurt that Boff’s dad, Fred Boff, is a retired DEA agent and a longtime resident of Mountainside. He also was a former hoops star at Elizabeth High and Kean College (now Kean University).
“We thank the Mountainside Police for their support, and they did an unbelievable job with really no notice whatsoever,” Boff said. “Couldn’t have done it without them.”
Similar sentiments that McGuire has for Perez, Murray and the rest of his staff – those on site and called in – who reacted as if two national-level games with several hundred fans was something they do routinely.
“Nobody (from the staff) left. I don’t think they could have gotten out of their parking space, anyway,” McGuire laughed, “but they would have stayed anyhow. They feel the same way that I do about this. We’ve always been about community and always been about the kids. They needed a safe place to be to play those games, and we were happy we could provide that.”
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