By Jay Mumford (aka “J-Zone”)

Due to budget cuts, as of now the legendary Mt. Vernon High School Basketball program (and all of the district’s athletics) will not exist this fall.

Money Earnin Mt. Vernon“, the anthem spawned by hip-hop legend Heavy D was the first to inform the world of the small (4 square mi.), close knit town on the northern border of the Bronx, NY. A hotbed of musical (Pete Rock & CL Smooth, P. Diddy) and theatrical (Denzel Washington) talent, Mt. Vernon is also home to one of the nation’s most storied and respected public high school basketball programs.

Rivaled only by Lincoln for Metro NY prestige, the Mt. Vernon Knights have reeled in 4 state federation championships and 25 Section 1 titles, while producing NBA products like Ben “The Knick Killer” Gordon, Ray & Gus Williams, Earl Tatum and Rodney McCray. The NCAA is also currently home to a lot of ex-Knights like Jonathan Mitchell & Mike Colburn (Rutgers), Chris Lowe (UMASS) and West Virginia University bound Kevin Jones. At the second annual PD Foundation dinner sponsored by Class of 1991 NY Federation Championship team members Dana Doggett and (current Varsity Assistant Coach) Brian Pritchett last month, MSG Network’s New York HS sports guru Mike Quick alluded to Mt. Vernon being “the best family around and the one place any student-athlete would want to be”. Head coach Bob Cimmino has turned down numerous coaching opportunities to remain in this tight-knit community and continue to add to a legacy that spans 4 decades. Not to mention, in his 14 years at the helm, only 2 of his student-athletes did not go on to some higher form of education.

Everybody knows all good things must come to an end, at least temporarily, but the timing in this situation just seems wrong. There were no violations, no all-senior teams graduating, no young stars shedding their maroon and gold for a prep powerhouse and no lulls in talent. In this case, a force beyond control has banged it’s gavel. Last week it was announced that Mt. Vernon’s school budget did not pass, meaning for the first time in it’s history there will be no sports whatsoever for the district’s 700 student-athletes.

“Every year a budget is introduced to public, and they vote to accept or reject”, said Pritchett. “It was rejected twice despite lowering the tax percentage on the second attempt. The contingency budget was created and the administration decided to cut sports.”

The current state of the economy has again victimized not only student-athletes in Mt. Vernon, but teachers and staff as well. “The economy has people strapped. We also lost a lot of long-time teachers and staff because all of our vocational staff were let go as well . Losing sports is major, but we’re also losing teachers and other activities.”

No student-athlete feels the impact of this situation more than senior swingman Sherrod Wright. After averaging 18.7 PPG in his junior campaign this past season, the basketball team’s top returning player was due to explode this winter in the aftermath of Jones heading to WVU. Add to that Wright’s strong AAU showing this spring and his prowess in the classroom (he is an honor roll student) and the Knights now have another highly ranked prospect with colleges already showing interest. In 2 months his senior year will begin and an unexpected monkey wrench has been thrown into an already vital and pivotal transition period.

It’s been proven time and time again that the co-dependence of athletics and academics are a must for many kids, especially in 2008. Sports make the school experience more exciting, but if you don’t compete in the classroom, you can’t reciprocate on the court. The effects of this fiscal issue can be felt as far as super producer and hip-hop legend Pete Rock. A 1988 alum, the names Pete Rock and Mt. Vernon go together like the John Stockton and Daisy Duke shorts…and disbelief was Pete’s immediate reaction.

“How is that possible?! A public high school as big as Mt. Vernon with that much school spirit, the sports meant everything to us when I was there. I played on the football team, went to all the basketball practices and games…and not to mention, the gang problem is big in Mt. Vernon now. Eliminating sports could be a disaster. Some kids can just do something else, but not everybody.”

For now, Mt. Vernon athletics have to independently raise about $ 300,000 if they expect to be functional by the fall, and that’s for varsity teams only. Ironically, 21 years after Heavy D gave his town the nickname “Money Earnin Mt. Vernon”, the moniker has taken an ominously literal significance.

“It’s important that we raise the money and not allow this to happen”, said Rasul Salahuddin, another member of the 1991 Federation Championship squad and current Chairman of Mt. Vernon’s SOS (Save Our Sports) Committee. “Education is extremely important to us, but a lot of these student-athletes use sports to pay for college and could not afford to attend otherwise. Not to mention, we will be losing coaches, some of whom are mentors and father figures to these young men.”

For those interested in more information or possibly helping, contact Rasul Salahuddin at the Save Our Sports Committee

Phone: 914- 699-7230 (extension 129)

E-Mail: ra4lil@homail.com

MOUNT VERNON BASKETBALL WEBSITE:

www.mountvernonbasketball.com

Jay Mumford (aka “J-Zone”) is a regular contributor to SLAM Online. He’s also written for SLAM, Bounce and a monthly column in French hoops mag, Reverse. Jay’s true passion lies in covering New York area high school basketball and is a part time teacher as well. If his nickname (“J-Zone”) sounds familiar to some indie rap fans…yes, it’s the same guy.
http://www.myspace.com/jzoneoldmaid