Celebrating 40 years of the Dillon Gym Youth Basketball League

Feb. 24, 2011 noon
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For the past 40 years, the Dillon Gym Youth Basketball League at Princeton University has connected undergraduate student coaches with local youth. Since its inception, the league has had some 10,000 participants. On Saturday, Feb. 26, the current league players and coaches will be honored at halftime of the Princeton vs. Columbia men's basketball game.

Photo courtesy of the Princeton Recreation Department

Forty years ago, a partnership began between the students of Princeton University and the local Princeton Recreation Department, creating the Dillon Gym Youth Basketball League.

The program was the brainchild of Jack Roberts, then Princeton Borough recreation director, and Sam Howell, former associate director of athletics at the University. From January through early March, University students instruct and coach local fourth- through ninth-graders on Saturday mornings. Since its inception, the league has had some 10,000 participants, more than 7,840 games have been played and nearly 26,000 minutes have been logged on the court.

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The Dillon league enables fourth- through ninth-graders to learn from Princeton undergraduate coaches. Here sophomore Matthew Kann coaches his team, the Mavericks. (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

"It’s impressive," said David Leach, the University's associate director of athletics for campus recreation. "The sheer volume of young kids and parents -- faculty, staff and local residents -- creates such a great blend of community and University. There is obviously a lot of goodwill being extended. To me, it's been one of the best examples of town-gown relations."

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The Dillon league has been characterized by a spirit of good-natured competition, according to participants. Here some of the league's earliest players take to the court in 1972, a year after the league was founded. (Photos courtesy of the Princeton Recreation Department)

Freshman Jordan Metro, a current coach and former league player, said, "The best thing about Dillon basketball is that it's all about fun. A great part of the league is that it highly encourages fair playing time for everybody. It gives everyone a chance to be the hero at the end of the game. I can confidently say that playing in Dillon basketball is one of my fondest sports memories from growing up in Princeton.

"Believe it or not, when I found out that I was lucky enough to be accepted to Princeton, the possibility of coaching Dillon basketball was one of the first thoughts that came to mind," he added. "As a coach it feels great to give back to the same league that I played in growing up."

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The Princeton Youth Sports (purple) team faces the Vincent Baldino & Brothers (red) squad in the final game before this season's playoffs. (Photos by Denise Applewhite)

Freshman Thatcher Foster, a former league player who now coaches with Metro, said, "To be able to play with my friends in a fun environment while bonding with college coaches who were both fun and inspiring was surreal. Games were competitive but not cutthroat, and I would often wake up hours before to get to the gym just to be a part of the community. Now, it is my and Jordan's utter delight that we can return the favor. Coaching Dillon is almost as much fun as playing in it, because we remember the joy it brought us."

The current league players and coaches will be recognized on Saturday, Feb. 26, at halftime of the Princeton vs. Columbia men's basketball game.

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Princeton juniors Michelle Oresky (left) and Elliott Lopez-Finn coach the Princeton Youth Sports team. (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

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In games earlier this month, the Sonics (greens) take on the Suns (orange), while the Mavericks (blue) challenge the Clippers (red). (Photos by Denise Applewhite)