Gardiner Memorial Classic
In the face of tragedy, a community comes together for a positive cause.
by Adam Fleischer
The Bronx’s St. James Park was more crowed than usual this past Sunday, even for an especially hot weekend afternoon in mid-August.
The reason: a widespread show of support for the Gardiner Memorial Basketball Classic.
“This is the fourth annual, and each year it tends to get bigger and bigger,” explains Dexter Gardiner, one of the organizers of the event and founder of The Gardiner Family Foundation.
The inaugural year was set up to honor Gardiner’s mother and sister, each of whom had passed away earlier in 2006. What was initially a day to remember loved ones soon turned into further devastation, though, as the car that Gardiner’s twin brother was driving as he left the tournament crashed, killing him and five other family members. Derrick, like Dexter, grew up near St. James Park and was similarly known as a local legend.
While still grappling with the losses, Gardiner found a way to continue to honor the memory of his relatives by setting up The Gardiner Family Foundation to help pay for funeral costs and show support to others dealing with similar situations.
“We lost six family members at one time, and we didn’t have the money to bury six bodies,” recalls his wife and fellow tournament organizer, Sherri. “We reached out to the city, and people came from all over—all the communities, every culture. They prayed for us, they gave us their time, their money, their food, so we were like a big family.” Now, she and her husband have attempted to mirror the support they received during tough times.
This summer, eight teams participated in the two-day tournament, including Team Jadakiss. “My man Dexter, he asked me to be a part of it. I’ve played in a couple tournaments up in Yonkers with him before and I’m here to show some love,” said the New York MC, whose team, led by ex-NBA player and former University of Cincinnati baller Kenny Satterfield, advanced to the finals after a victory over Kirk Flirt earlier in the day.
The afternoon’s other semi-final game featured Team Never Forgotten, who easily handled Body Snatchers. While Satterfield was the only for NBA player on the court, the talent level was high across the board. In addition to some local legends, guys from the And 1 circuit as well as college players and overseas pros suited up for the festivities.
Less than half a decade removed from the first tournament, things have grown quickly, much to the delight of Gardiner. “From the first year, we started off in white t-shirts, and now we have a full-set top and bottom jerseys. We’re giving out three $1,500 scholarships to three students this year, and we’re bringing families from all over.”
An enormous help in making that growth possible has been the backing of Gersowitz Libo & Korek and lawyertime.com. Gardiner reached out to Jeff Korek as he was preparing for this year’s tournament, and got more than he anticipated. “Dexter and I met each other playing in a league in Westchester,” says Korek. “I didn’t know anything about it until Dexter said, Hey, we’re doing this thing, would you mind helping out a little bit? Because he did all the raising of funds to put this together on his own.”
And that’s exactly what Korek did, lending a hand to provide funding for the scholarships and jerseys, as well as the free food and drinks that were provided throughout the weekend. The three scholarships, awarded in between the second semi-final game and the 5:30 pm championship tip-off, went to recent high school grads from the area. Among them was Durand Scott, who helped lead Rice to the Federation Class AA state title this past season and will be suiting up for the University of Miami in the fall.
Other events during the break from ball leading up to the final included Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook addressing the crowd and thanking them for coming out for the cause. Later, there was a memorial service for numerous families from near and far who, like Gardiner, had lost loved ones.
As the start of the championship game approached and the sweltering heat showed signs of giving way, the crowd grew even larger than it had been throughout the day. The main event battle between Team Jadakiss and Never Forgotten did not disappoint, going down to the wire. After a lackluster first half showing from his squad, Jada enlisted the services of friend and former University of Arkansas standout Kareem Reid, a Bronx native. Behind Reid’s lead and free throws down the stretch, Team Jadakiss ultimately took home the weekend’s title.
That was just one of many victories on a day during which spectators were repeatedly reminded of the Foundation’s motto, “I am my brother’s keeper.” The turnout was substantial, a key stepping stone towards spreading word of the cause in a way that Gardiner and others hope to.
“We’re talking about families not just here in the Bronx, but in the Tri-State area, and even throughout the country,” commented Alan Farrell who, in addition to the Gardiners and GLK, was the event’s organizer. “This is a movement.”
As was clearly on display Sunday, despite the incomprehensible tragedy that the Gardiner family has faced, they remain in high spirits and steadfastly dedicated to helping others. Like Gardiner, Farrell sees the big picture, even when it hasn’t always been easy to do so.
“From great tragedy, and from great pain and suffering, can come this wonderful story of hope.”