Dexter Gardiner has been busy the last few days preparing for the Gardiner Family Foundation Memorial Classic, which has been held for the past six summers in St. James Park, where he and his late twin brother Derrick became streetball stars.
There was the usual painting of the basketball court, seeding the park, buying the food, making sure the backpacks to be given away to schoolkids were ready, and the best chore — telling the scholarship recipients they had won.
“They go crazy, they’re so happy,” said Gardiner.
And, in this hot summer of guns blazing on basketball courts and playgrounds in the Bronx and across the city, Gardiner met with police from the 52nd Precinct about security for the thousands expected to attend on Saturday and Sunday.
For the first time, “it’s a such a big concern to me,” Gardiner said. “We had a meeting with the police, and a lot of cops will be out there. I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Just last Monday night, four teens were wounded on a Brooklyn basketball court when a gunman on a bike fired shots at the court. Last month, 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan was killed by a stray bullet after a basketball memorial tournament in a Morrisania housing project.
“It’s been happening so frequently,” said Gardiner.
“But for six years we have people coming out in peace and love, a family atmosphere,” he said. “They look forward to this event.”
The tournament was born out of a desire to honor his late mother, who he said “taught us how to give back to the community.”
He and his twin played college and street basketball, coached two teams and were active in St. James Park, where they grew up.
When their mother and aunt died in 2006, the twins set up a community event in their honor that July, calling it the Gardiner Memorial Basketball Classic.
Derrick came up from Mississippi with a traveling team to play in the tournament. After it ended, he drove away in a car with six others, including his 6-year-old daughter and three nephews.
Derrick, his daughter, and two nephews were among six people killed in a car crash on the Bronx River Parkway, on July 9, 2006.
Gardiner knew his brother would want him to continue to hold the tournament, so he did, honoring the deceased family members, creating two days of fun and positive energy for hundreds of kids. This weekend, they’re expecting about 3,000 people to attend the tournament this weekend.
Gardiner did not have any money to bury those killed in the crash, and the city helped.
So that’s why he set up the Gardiner Family Foundation, which awards scholarships to college-bound kids and helps families deal with tragic losses by assisting with burial costs and giving moral support.
He said relatives of the seven family members killed in a similar crash on the Bronx River Parkway in April — in which the van went over the guardrail and plunged into the Bronx Zoo — are slated to come to the tournament to be honored.
Jacob Nunez, 84, his wife, Ana Julia, 80, their daughters Maria Gonzalez, 45 and Maria Rosario, 39, and granddaughters Jazlyn Gonzalez, 9, Naily Rosario, 7 and Marlyn Rosario, 3, all died on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, just like Derrick.
Three Bronx kids are getting $1,500 scholarships.
Players come from across the city, including many college standouts and street ball superstars.
A few years ago, Jeff Korek, partner at Gersowitz, Libo and Korek PC law firm, played basketball with Gardiner in a Westchester County league and learned about Gardiner’s loss. He got his firm to help sponsor the tournament.
“We’ll give away backpacks, some iPads and laptops,” said Korek. “Each year we try to make it better. We want to brand St.James Park as a place that does good.
“We continue to have faith…we point out before it starts that this is a memorial and the purpose of everybody being here is to bring honor to their families and those of others who suffered tragedy.”
The park is on Jerome Ave. and 193rd St. In case of rain the tournament will take place inside Gauchos Gym on Gerard Ave. It starts at noon each day. (Check out gardinerfoundation.org)
“This is the seventh year, and every year the crowd is bigger and bigger,” said Gardiner. “We just want everyone to have a good time, and honor those who lost loved ones in tragedy.”