MIDDLETOWN — After competing in the Greater Hartford Pro-Am for 11 years, Barbara Raisner got her own reserved seat at the scorer’s table. Now, in her 15th year at the showcase, the 81-year-old basketball superfan has her own table — and her own team.
Raisner’s children each donated $1,000 to sponsor the team as an 80th birthday present before last season. During games, his personal-sized plastic folding table next to his team’s bench holds his personal items as well as a bag of popcorn that league founder and manager Pete Higgins bought him. She sits in her black ‘Barb’s Bouncers’ t-shirt with the number 80 on the back, enjoying the game she loves from the best seat at the Vale Sports Club.
After the first 16 years in Hartford, financial troubles in the city forced stops in Waterbury and New Britain before finding the Pro-Am’s new home in the Vale Gymnasium in Middletown.
Next year, for the 25th anniversary, Higgins hopes to return to the capital.
It’s all about the money.
“If I’m able to get a big sponsor, which we’ve always tried to get, and he wants to cover the $45,000 cost to get the gym, then by all means,” Higgins said. . “I’m in Hartford. I don’t have a problem with that. But I can’t afford it right now.
The Pro-Am is sponsored by the NCAA, so charging for admission is not allowed and relies on sponsorships, which are pasted around the field and on the uniforms.
In exploring options, Higgins has been in communication with city council members and “other people with big influence” who want to see the Pro-Am return to Hartford for its landmark season.
Troy McKoy Sr., a Pro-Am legend who was All-State guard for East Hartford High in the 1990s before playing in South Carolina and as a professional overseas, now works for the recreation department of the city.
“It’s always a big event,” said McKoy, who coaches his son, Troy McKoy Jr., on the All Faith Memorial Angels. “But a lot of people who used to go out for every game don’t go out anymore.”
Would it be possible to go back? “Without a doubt,” said McKoy Sr.[The Pro-Am] is just something to look forward to going to play – or even after you’ve finished playing, to go watch. It was always a joy.
Raisner likes the Vale facility, which has hosted the Pro-Am for the past few seasons. It is spacious with three courts and is air-conditioned. The game is the same. DJ Tall T tunes are still playing in the background, and Higgins hosts from denunciation to final buzzer. But the atmosphere is different.
The UConn players Raisner loved, and seated next to his original reserved seat, don’t make the trip to Middletown. Attendance numbers are down, mainly due to location.
Raisner seems to be in the minority when she says, “I like this place. It’s farther for me from home, but I love this big open gym. The others, I felt claustrophobic.
The Pro-Am takes over Center Court with three sets of bleachers in front of the team benches with youth practice on the courts to the right and left.
This year’s regular season ends on July 25, with the championship tournament starting on August 1.
Higgins decided to start the league after being stationed in Norfolk, Virginia with the US Navy. He cooked for the Admiral and attended a Johnson and Wales satellite campus when he took a wrong turn that took him past Lake Taylor High School – which was home to the Pro-Am league in which Allen Iverson played after his freshman year at Georgetown. He stopped to look at Iverson, who had scored as many as 81 points in a game in this league.
Shortly after drawing inspiration, Higgins returned to Connecticut to be with his father who had fallen ill. He contacted organizers in Virginia and created the GHPA in 1997.
Its goal is not just to put on a show, but to give players – many of whom are in high school or college – a chance to practice with and against older, more experienced players.
After a game on Thursday, McKoy Sr. was doing just that.
He stood under a basket giving Brody Limric, a 6-foot-9 forward from Glastonbury who transferred to Central State from Connecticut after his first season at Quinnipiac, some advice on playing in the position.
On the other side of the court, Raisner was getting his own shots. No matter where the Pro-Am games are played, Raisner will be there. With his own reserved seat, watching his team.