A young NYCHA resident gets airborne on a hopping ball during NYCHA’s Education Through Sports Day.

By Brent Grier

Hundreds of youth from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tested their sports skills throughout the summer at Education Through Sports Days. The program provides a series of free instructional clinics and games designed to introduce children to sports they may not otherwise be exposed to, such as golf, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball and the martial arts. NYCHA hosts Education Through Sports Day events every summer in all five boroughs.

At the event held in Harlem River Park, eight-year-old Juan Alvarez of Lehman Houses in Manhattan won a trophy for putting golf balls despite it being the first time he ever had picked up a club. "I like baseball better," Alvarez admitted. "I just got lucky, but I want to try playing again."

When the names of greats in the sport were mentioned, Alvarez and his new golfing buddy, eight-year-old Oscar Ruiz of Clinton Houses in Manhattan, traded blank stares. Primarily a soccer fan, Ruiz also won a golf competition even though he is unfamiliar with the sport. "I liked it a lot, it was great to win, but I didn't know I could play good," said Ruiz. A skilled technician with his hands, mixed martial arts expert Ishmael Cato taught a clinic on the finer points of defensive maneuvering. "You guys better not try this in the community center," chuckled a NYCHA staff member while looking on at the demonstration.

A short walk away from the main field, NYCHA youth and staff were treated to a visit from basketball legend, Darryl Dawkins, most known for his backboard shattering days with the NBA's New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. "It's great to come out here and meet with the kids and show them a few things," Dawkins said. The near seven-footer was not on the court as a ringer, instead leading the children in a few drills, although he was unable to resist blocking a few layup attempts.

Box lunches and bottles of water were on hand to replenish the participants, who in addition to playing physical sports, flexed their mental muscles with board games like chess. Seven-year-old Kasey Sedgwick of Lehman Houses waited for his chance to play checkers, while his friend, 11-year-old Eddie Diaz, also of Lehman, had his heart set on a game of Connect Four. "I'm into baseball, but I want to play something else first," said Sedgwick, as he studied the strategies of other players.