Pitzer pick-up is a slam dunk for community engagement

People play basketball at night
Local residents and Pitzer students gather at the outdoor basketball court outside McCconnell on Wednesday Oct. 4.  (Emma Jensen• The Student Life)

Can pickup basketball bridge the gap between the 5Cs and the Inland Empire community around it? Maybe not, but at the very least students can hoop with the locals and make friends outside the Claremont bubble.

Every week, locals from the community meet at the outdoor basketball court beside McConnell Dining Hall at Pitzer College to get some shots up and compete with students and other people from the surrounding cities including Pomona, Montclair and La Verne.

The weekly event began after recent graduate Ngaya Swai PZ ’23 noticed these locals were regularly coming to the Pitzer courts to play pick-up. Recognizing there weren’t many places at the 5Cs where students and local community members share space, Swai played a role in helping open up their games to students.

Swai said he believes that meeting members of the local community outside of the 5Cs doesn’t always have to be through a community partner or organized in a classroom. Three days a week, it can take the form of balling out with the local hoopers.

“The 5C bubble is more like an iron tank or like Sandy Cheeks’s house,” Swai told TSL. “The only way to connect with the local community is through force … Basketball has always been a great means of meeting people,” Swai said.

Henry Ollman PZ ’25 is among the students who participate and has been coming to play with local basketball players since he was a freshman. He said he enjoys how consistent the activity is.

“These guys [local residents] are out here most nights,” Ollman said. “I come out here and the groups vary, but there’s always somebody who’s ready to play.”

Pickup typically takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, according to Josue Valdivia, a local basketball player, there are people playing almost every day on the courts if you come at the right times. He said that people come from all over the greater Claremont area and surrounding cities to come play, adding that many found out about the weekly pickup at other local parks.

I was playing at Cahuilla Park and I met some guys there and they told me about this place that happened to be on the campus of college,” Valdivia said. “I ended up wanting to play here instead.”

Valdivia is just one of many of the locals that found the Pitzer court basketball community. Sammuel “Sammi”  Ramierez is another frequent participant who heard about playing at Pitzer at another local park. Ramierez said he has been coming to the 5Cs for over three years, after seeking out higher levels of competition.

We used to hangout and play ball at Palomares Park and we came here to see where our game was,” Ramierez said. “There used to be [students] coming here who played on the [varsity] team.”

According to both Ramierez and Ollman, the games that are played at the courts are competitive. Ollman said that playing against adults as opposed to college age students raises the level of play.

“There are some [local players] that are actually quite good … since these are adult men, versus 18 to 22 year olds in college, I’d say competition is better on average than I get playing [fellow] students on outdoor courts,” Ollman said.

According to Valdivia, years of competition between local residents and students has created a tight-knit community between them and even developed some rivalries.

“We had a little kind of friendly rivalry with the locals that come to the courts,” Ollman said. “So it was Pitzer students against locals … that was always fun because they’re the same groups that came out and we had some matchups. It was a nice little community.”

According to Ramirez, their community is looking to expand and is open to anyone. He said he hopes to continue to build and grow this community, going as far as suggesting a partnership between the locals and Pitzer to try to hold a charity event at the court.

“We could have a little tournament that could bring us all together,” Ramirez said. “Have people from different parks come and have a little tournament … do a barbeque with it and have the proceeds from the tournament go to a charity. There are always people in the community that need some money.”

According to Valdivia, the community at the courts is only strengthened by numbers. He said that everyone, students and residents alike, are welcome and encouraged to join.

“Everyone is welcome for sure,” Valdivia said. “We always love it when more people come.”

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