For years, Mount Vernon High School has been churning out professional basketball players at a rate that would make John Calipari blush. Gus and Ray Williams, brothers who both went on to play the NBA (Gus was a two-time NBA All-Star and Ray played in the League for 11 years) learned how to shoot under the same roof that 2005 NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner Ben Gordon did. So did dozens of other future NBA and Division I basketball players.
Located about 20 minutes north of Manhattan in Westchester Country, the city of Mount Vernon, NY has become known for its high school basketball team, which is perennially one of the top squads in the country (the school has won nine state titles).
It’s with this in mind that Jerald Hoover, a sportswriter and graduate of Mount Vernon HS, set out to make the documentary Four Square Miles to Glory. The goal was to depict and chronicle all the success that this small high school tucked away in New York City’s suburbs has enjoyed as well as the impact that said success has had on the city’s residents.
“This is more than just a story about a good basketball team,” said Hoover. “It’s a story about a bunch of men who have made a difference for an entire community.”
On a recent afternoon eight former Mount Vernon basketball stars gathered for a lunch in a conference room right across from the school gym. They were there to finish filming, but also to talk about the glory days and to answer questions from the crowd. One local resident wanted to know which team the group thought was the greatest to ever come through the school.
“The ’71 team had a unique way of playing basketball which transcended the game,” said Rudy Hackett, who played for Syracuse from 1972-’75 and bounced around the ABA for a few years. “We used to score 97 points a game and give up just 53. I remember feeling bad for my opponents as we played them.”
Clinton Young, the former Mayor of Mount Vernon, said he agreed. “But all these players have contributed as much off the court as they have on it,” he added. Loews Moore, he pointed out, was now running the local Boys & Girls Club. Richie Garner, who never made it to the NBA but played at Manhattan College, was now a reverend. All of them came from poor households. Now they were giving back.
“The men sitting have made us all proud,” Young said. “Now let’s get the word out about this film.”