Harlem Wizards thrill crowd at Buckeye Local

CONNORVILLE – Basketball became a community thing Friday night at Buckeye Local High School.

First-year Buckeye Local boys’ head coach Greg Haberfield is trying to get everyone in the Buckeye Local School District involved in the sport, and last night was a big step in doing so.

A team comprised of Panthers’ administrators, faculty, athletic staff and alumni took on the world famous Harlem Wizards. Yes, I said Wizards and not Globetrotters.

The Wizards are celebrating their 52nd year of criss-crossing the globe with their Slamtastic Tour. They have performed globally from famous arenas like Madison Square Garden to schools such as Madison High School.

Their travels have taken them from Brussels to Beijing, from Italy to Istanbul and from Copenhagen to Copiague.

“I thought this would be a great thing for our community,” Haberfield said prior to the contest. “I’m just trying to bring the communities of the district together. I thought this would be a fun-family night.”

Indeed it was very entertaining as the Harlem Unit of the Wizards dressed only six players, but those half-a-dozen were outstanding performers, as well as showmen.

“It’s not about us,” Wizards’ DJ Kevin J. Hall, also known as “Mr. Swiv,” told those in attendance. “It’s about your community having fun tonight.”

You didn’t even have to look at the scoreboard, because it really didn’t matter who won. The night was all about having fun.

One of those in attendance that had loads of fun, I think, was Buckeye Local girls’ softball coach Joe Soos, who somehow found himself serving as the game referee, or guinea pig if you will, at times.

Prior to the opening tip, Wizards’ big (and funny) man Dwayne “Swoop” Simpson had Soos sprinkle some powder on his hand so that he (Swoop) could grip the ball better. However, once Soos turned around and headed onto the court to toss the ball up, Swoop planted a big left hand on the right side of Soos’ backside. A moment later, Swoop’s right hand found the other side, Soos with a pair of handprints on his you know what!

But the successful softball coach took it in stride, knowing it was all good-natured and that the fans really enjoyed seeing it.

“I had no idea it was coming,” Soos said of the powder job.

Comprising the Team Panther squad were Haberfield, Chris Heaton (boys’ JV coach), Tom Figurski (girls’ head coach), Greg Novak (junior high coach), Coy Sudvary (high school principal), Andy Long (high school teacher), Scott Wolfe (high school teacher), Jerad Call (junior high teacher and bowling coach), Christine DeFede (South Elementary teacher), Emily Long (JV girls coach, South Elementary teacher), Scott Rosser (South Elementary teacher), Heather Long (North Elementary teacher), Kelley Bauknecht (North Elementary teacher), Jay Morris (former boys’ head coach), Chase Groves (alumnus Class of 2005), Johnny Rozenek (alumnus Class of 2013) and Tommy Hamilton (alumnus Class of 2013).

The Wizards were made up of, in addition to the 6-7 Simpson who played at Southern Connecticutt State University and spent two years with the Harlem Globetrotters, are John “Big J” Smith, a 6-8 product of Queens, N.Y., who went to the College of Staten Island; Roscoe “Sarge” Johnson Jr., a 6-5 leaper from Allegany College in Maryland who spent six years in the military; Leon “Space Jam” Sewell, a 6-2 jumping jack from Dothan, Ala., who played at Bethel and East Central Universities; Ken “Blenda” Rodriguez, a slick 5-8 ballhandler from Bergen Community College who spent parts of four seasons with the ‘Trotters; and Lloyd “Loonatik” Clinton, a 6-5 funnyman from Brooklyn who played at Allen University in South Carolina.

“We have three units that are pushing towards 400 events this year,” Hall said. “This unit is the Harlem Unit and we’ll do about 130 of those events across the Midwest. Our season runs from September to May, and then we do camps in June, July and August. Some of the Wizards will go home for the summer, while some stay and help runs the camps.”

For the Wizards, it is much more than playing basketball and entertaining the fans who come out night-in and night-out. Friday afternoon the Wizards made stops at several elementary schools in the Buckeye Local district to meet the students face-to-face.

“We go to the schools and leave the students with a very positive message such as eating healthy, abstaining from drugs and bullying,” he continued. “The guys show the kids tricks and play games with them, try to get them excited and come out to the game.

“It’s an excellent ticket. It’s an excellent time. The kids absolutely love it. This one night will last some of these kids a lifetime. They’ll never forget it.”

Growing up as a kid and watching the Globetrotters, and even seeing them a couple of years ago in Wheeling, there are many comparisons to be made of the Globetrotters and Wizards. The main one being, it’s all about entertainment.

Oh, by the way, if any one cares, the Wizards prevailed, 93-86, in a hard-fought battle.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com