By ADAM ZANGARI
Throughout this summer, the Kent County YMCA has played host to the Rhode Island Midnight Basketball League (RIMBL), and as the sun set on the month of August, organizers …
Throughout this summer, the Kent County YMCA has played host to the Rhode Island Midnight Basketball League (RIMBL), and as the sun set on the month of August, organizers celebrated a successful first year back.
The RIMBL aims to bridge gaps between the community and the police, according to Greater Providence YMCA CEO Steve O’Donnell, who helped organize the league with Greater Providence YMCA COO Kobi Dennis.
The program returned from a ten-year hiatus due to lack of funding, according to O’Donnell.
“It takes a lot of money, time and effort to run a program like this,” Dennis said. “The referees, the scorekeepers, all the young people in the orange shirts, we hired them for the summer.”
According to Dennis, the process of restarting the league started in January, with calls to potential sponsors. The league’s goal of spreading messages against drunk driving and for financial literacy resonated with sponsors, and led to the money that the league needed to get back off the ground.
Dennis and O’Donnell chose the Kent County YMCA as a host in large part due to the facilities and its central location within Rhode Island.
“This was done by design,” O’Donnell said. “It’s the middle of the state. You’ve got to come drive here, and nobody knows where this is beyond the Y.”
O’Donnell said that he was “shocked” by the talent level of interested players in the league’s first year back, with some players having international professional experience.
The RIMBL offers three different basketball leagues- the “Off the Couch” league, which consists mainly of local law enforcement employees and other people involved in emergency services, the “Almost Pros” league, which consists of other community members, and a women’s league. The former two leagues both had their championships last Thursday night.
The league boasts fifteen sponsors, with the main sponsor of the rebooted league’s first season being Centreville Bank, who invested $50,000 into the league. Centreville Bank president and CEO Hal Horvat said that it “didn’t take too much convincing” to become the league’s main sponsor.
“There’s nice courts, it’s at night, it’s something to do,” Horvat said. “I think once folks have come out they’ve seen it’s good basketball and there’s been more consistency and it’s developed well.”
Horvat’s son Tom was one of the players on the Centreville Bank team, which wrapped up an undefeated season with a 61-59 win over Link Commercial Properties in the Almost Pros championship. In the Off the Couch championship, the Rhode Island State Police team pulled away late against the Providence Police Department team and won 44-34.
Buy-in from both local communities and local police departments were crucial to the success of the league. According to Dennis, the league managed to assuage most concerns in both communities.
“A lot of the police didn’t believe in programs like this as well,” Dennis said. “But when they come out, they shake hands, they’re shoulder-to-shoulder with community members, it’s working.”
Throughout the course of the year, the program has seen significant growth, and each league’s finals had turnout in the triple digits.
As for next summer, O’Donnell and Dennis hope to grow the program to include more locations, as well as more teams involved.
“We’re trying to keep it going every summer for the next ten years and as long as I’m at the YMCA,” Dennis said. “I’d like to have all 39 cities and towns in the state involved- that’s my goal.”