They are older and grayer now, and many left Buffalo long ago.
But the boys from the Masten Boys & Girls Club never forgot their home away from home on Northland Avenue, and on Saturday, dozens of them returned for a long overdue reunion – and to say thanks.
The Masten Club alumni raised the money for a new outdoor basketball court, which was unveiled at a dedication ceremony Saturday during the inaugural Masten Club Alumni Reunion.
“It’s a way to give back,” said Curtis Aiken, a Masten club legend and former basketball star for Bennett High School and the University of Pittsburgh. “Not only give back, but to pay homage to those directors who in many respects shaped and framed our lives.”
“This is where we learned to compete,” Aiken said, “where we learned discipline, where we learned how to lose, how to win and how to respect one another.”
Aiken spearheaded efforts to raise the $20,000 and invited Masten boys from all different eras back to the familiar place where they spent so many hours during the summer and after school.
“In a lot of ways, we feel like we were raised in this building,” said Rob Lanier, the St. Bonaventure University graduate who is now associate head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee.
It’s where they did their homework and where they got tutoring. It’s where they played pingpong and shot pool and learned about life on and off the basketball court. For many, it was their refuge while growing up in tough Buffalo neighborhoods.
“One of the most valuable resources in our community was black men, and we walked into this building and had access to that resource on a daily basis,” Lanier said. “We were held to a standard by people in this building.”
“That manifested itself into something much bigger,” Aiken said. “We became family.”
Family was on full display Saturday when an estimated 100 Masten alumni turned out for the reunion, including former Bennett standouts Trevor Ruffin and John Thomas. Thomas, in fact, returned to hold his basketball clinic at the club Saturday morning.
The Masten men came from all around – Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, Georgia. They hugged and reminisced about the legendary games of past at the old Masten club.
“It was huge,” said Tim Brennan, chief development officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo. “I was absolutely blown away by the numbers that came back, and I heard that many of them hadn’t seen each other in 20 to 30 years.”
Aiken, who lives in Pittsburgh, reached out to Brennan in the past few months to talk about how the alumni can help. That evolved into funding for the new outdoor court and this weekend’s reunion, Brennan explained.
It came at a good time, because Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide are trying to do a better job reaching out to their alumni for support, he said.
“To really have them back, engaged with the club is crucial because they’re the ones whose lives were impacted by what we did,” Brennan said, “and they’re the ones that are going to want to support us.”