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Honoring the Great Recreation Leaders of the Bronx and Bringing Back Their Programs

24th August 2009

On Saturday, August 1, I was part of a large group of Bronx educators, elected officials, youth workers, and former basketball stars who came together to honor Hilton White, a Parks recreation leader, who ran a community basketball program called “The Bronx Falcons” in the 1960’s which sent scores of young people to college on basketball and academic scholarships. Three of those players, Nevil Shed, Willie Worsley and Willie Cager – all present at the August 1 event-were starters on the 1966 Texas Western Universiyt national championship team, the first team to win an NCAA championship with an all black starting five

This incredibly moving event, at which those assembled renamed a street and a park in the South Bronx after Hilton White, recalls the fond discussion of Bronx youth workers and recreation leaders in the Fordham University Press book I just published with Allen Jones called
The Rat That Got Away: A Bronx Memoir. Allen who grew up in the Patterson Houses in the 1950’s and 1960’s was the beneficiary of a large number of free community basketball programs in his neighborhood, directed legendary coaches like Ray Felix, Floyd Lane, Nate “Tiny” Archibald and Myles Dorch as well as Hilton White. It was the skills he learned in these community programs that allowed Allen to escape the growing heroin epidemic in his neighborhood in the mid 60’s. which almost swallowed him up. and win scholarships to prep school, junior college and college. These skills also gave Allen the opportunity to pay professional basketball in Europe, an experience which he ultimatley parlayed into a successful career as a banker, a coach and a radio personality. This whole remarkable story is told in The Rat That Got Away: A Bronx Memoir a project I am very proud to have played a role in seeing into print.

Unfortunately, the free youth recreation programs such as the one run by Hilton White, and as described in Allen’s book, are no longer available to Bronx youth. Most were eliminated in the New York City Fiscal Crisis of the 1970’s. As a result, young people grwoing up in the bronx today
have fewer recreational opportunities than Allen Jones did. This is a terrible tragedy, and one of the major themes mention by virtually every speaker, at the event honoring Hilton White was the need to bring these programs back.

Mark Naison
August 22, 2009