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Hoop stars shine bright at Masten Boys Club Alumni Reunion

There easily were 10,000 points of high school basketball scoring talent sitting within 15 feet of the podium Saturday afternoon at the Masten Boys Club Alumni Reunion.

At the microphone was Curtis Aiken, the Bennett High School legend who scored 2,162 points in his prep career and then starred at Pittsburgh. To his right was Damien Foster, who scored 2,324 points for Buffalo Traditional before moving onto Boston College and the University at Buffalo. Then there was Malik Campbell, a 1,660-point scorer for Turner/Carroll who played both basketball and football at Syracuse. Nearby was Bennett great Trevor Ruffin, who once scored 76 points in a game at Seneca and went onto play 110 games in the NBA.

That kind of star power is part of the history and mystique of the Masten Boys & Girls Club. Loyalty to the club brought dozens of former star athletes and several hundred from the community to the club's second annual alumni picnic.

The Masten alumni's donation of $20,000 last year funded a new outdoor basketball court. On Saturday, the alumni presented the club with a check for $27,500, which will go toward numerous upgrades and programs.

"We always want the impact to go directly to the kids," said Aiken. "In order to do that, they have to have a clean safe environment to come to. We want the impact to be felt first and foremost on the facility. We want them to walk into a club and be proud of the way it looks. The goal is to inspire our youth to be responsible young, productive citizens."

The Masten club, at 397 Northland Ave., is one of 10 boys and girls clubs in the city. It serves about 100 youths daily at afterschool programs and another 100 in evening programs.

"We've always had alumni, and they've always been involved," said Shari McDonough, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo. "But Curtis really has taken over with Tony Merriweather, and they have breathed new life into the alumni group."

"We're going to renovate this club and try to raise money to remodel it," McDonough said. "Heating, air conditioning, new floors, bathrooms. We need more bathrooms because the amount of children you can serve is based on the bathrooms."

Alumni from across the country spent Saturday reconnecting and reminiscing about the impact the club had on them.

"What the Masten Boys Club meant to me growing up was threefold," said Merriweather, who starred at Canisius High in the early 1980s and now lives in Jersey City, N.J. "It was my family outside of my family. Then there was no better competition anywhere in the city than at the Masten Boys Club. Then the life lessons that I received because of the competition brought me where I am today in terms of leadership, communication, commitment and dedication."

Ruffin came back from his home in Charlotte, N.C.

"None of us can attribute any amount of success we had without this place being at the forefront," he said. "The best games were the three on three games here. Saturday morning all the best from every high school, every other center, would meet here at 10 o'clock. I was 16 and everybody knew me from football. I came in a little late one Saturday but I got picked for the first game. I said, 'I've arrived.' I took that mentality from this place everywhere I went."

Ruffin, who averaged 37 ppg as a senior at Bennett in 1988, starred at Hawaii then played for the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers.

"It wasn't just basketball," Ruffin said. "It prepared you mentally, just because of what you had to do. There's not a cat from this boys club who can't play pool, ping pong or bumper pool because you always had to wait your turn. That's what you did until you could get on the court. This place taught patience, stick-to-itveness. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You do all the things you're supposed to be doing, then when it's your time, you're ready for the stage."

"This was a magical place," said Kenny Pope, former UB star and long-time South Park coach who was executive director at the club from 1975 to 1986. "The talent that came through this building could fill two Division I teams. But we had educational and tutorial programs. We had arts and crafts. We had a kiln where they would make dishes to take home to their parents. A lot of kids have benefitted."

Pope was one of three former executive directors honored at an awards ceremony, along with the late Kenneth Macklin and Lorrie Alexander.

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