MARGATE - Roman Rudisill, 18, of Galloway Township, doesn't play a lot of basketball. But as a coach for one of the Hoops for All teams, he only has to focus on a few basic rules.
"You make sure everyone gets to play," he said as players wrapped up a quarter at the Eugene A. Tighe School here. "And you want them to have fun."
Now in its eighth year, the Hoops for All program gives young people with disabilities a chance to play basketball with the help of dozens of volunteers who make sure everyone gets a chance to score.
Coordinated by MaryAnn Christian, of the Margate Community Education and Recreation Department, the program is funded by donations from a long list of businesses whose names take up the entire back of the T-shirts the players and volunteers wear. The program has grown every year, and this year has 125 players on 12 teams. Games are played on five Sunday afternoons in the two gyms at the Tighe School. Participation is free.
The program is an outgrowth of the Field of Dreams baseball field in Absecon, and many of that group's volunteers and players participate.
"It gives the players a winter activity," said Christian, who calls it the "Fast and Furious Basketball League" for their ability to play six hourlong games in three hours by using two gyms.
The teams are divided by a combination of age and ability. MaryAnn and Chuck Dhyne, of Absecon, who handles the rosters for Field of Dreams, makes up the teams.
"He knows every kid, their family, and what they can do," John Glassey, of Egg Harbor Township, said of Dhyne. Glassey should know, he's a Field of Dreams founder.
Most of the Hoops for All games are not competitive. Ray Hart, 16, of Galloway Township, said his job as scorekeeper is "to keep it so no one loses."
Four of the teams, however, do play a regular game.
That's where referees Allen Kressman, of Margate, and Frank Burbridge, of Brig-antine, get most of their work - although they also guide players through the rules in the non-competitive games.
"I try to teach some basic skills," said Kressman, a school guidance counselor in Atlantic City and former physical education teacher who has been with the Hoops since it started. "It's grown so much. Most of the kids started in the small back gym."
Retiree Rocco Olivieri, of Margate, just joined as a Hoops volunteer after a couple of years with Field of Dreams. A former Little Lea-gue coach, Olivieri said the joy for him is watching the kids play.
"It's just great to see them doing things that all the other kids do," he said. "And it's great for the parents to be able to come and watch them."
Olivieri's also impressed with the large group of high school students who make up the bulk of on-court volunteers. Christian said several high school athletic teams come out to help, just as they do with Field of Dreams.
For some, the volunteer effort is a family and friends affair. Bethann Keenan, 16, of Galloway Township, volunteered after hearing about it from Hart.
"I came one time, and I really liked it," she said.
Shawn Cahill, 15, of Ventnor, was asked to help out after he worked with kids at a sports camp last year. Cahill, who has a real affinity for the younger students, gently helped some less-focused players stay in the game and high-fived the players at breaks.
Kris Rudisill volunteered on the basketball court as her son coached. She said they started when her daughter's softball team at Absegami High School in Galloway Township, volunteered at Field of Dreams.
"These are kids who otherwise would not have many opportunities to play sports," Rudisill said. "And it puts it in perspective for the kids who do play sports that it's not just about winning, it's about participating."
Volunteers and spectators marveled at how much the players have improved.
"At first they didn't know to run up and down the court, or have positions," Glassey said. "The officials take the time to talk to them, explain the game. They really make it like a real game."
Parents said they appreciate the opportunity to have their child involved in activities outside of school.
Victoria DeRose, of Egg Harbor Township, watched as her husband, Sal, gave son Brody, a shooting lesson during the warm-up period. Sal DeRose said he is now considering getting a hoop for their home.
"The more things we can get him involved in the better," Victoria DeRose said of Brody, 8, who is autistic. "It is difficult to keep his attention, get him engaged. But the volunteers are just wonderful, and the atmosphere is so positive."
The dedication of both families and volunteers kept turnout high even on Super Bowl Sunday.
Barry Hackett, of Absecon, a founder of Field of Dreams, came with his wife, Susan, to watch their grandson Jacob play with a little help from Margate firefighter John Sher, who pushed Jacob's wheelchair across the court and set him up for shots.
"When we got MaryAnn, we got a good core group of volunteers with her," Hackett said. "It's nice to be able to come and just be a grandparent."
Susan Hackett said the games also are an opportunity for parents to network and talk to each other about their children. Matt Grodziak, of Galloway Township, said it is the positive atmosphere that keeps everyone coming back. Another Field of Dreams volunteer, he handles registration each Sunday for the Hoops program.
"These are all just good, caring people," he said.
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