Volume 73, Number 37 | January 14 - 20, 2004


From baths to basketball: The Carmine Rec. story

By Judith Stiles

Aisha Delacruz, left, and Asia Salas at Carmine Recreation Center.

In the privacy of City Hall, behind closed doors, the Manhattan borough president criticized the average New Yorker for being disheveled and downright smelly. This city official was clever enough not to go public with the sentiment and instead tried to remedy the problem by expanding the facilities at the corner of Clarkson St. and Varick St. to include 75 more showers for men and 22 showers for women — built all before the new year. . .before Jan. 1, 1912.

The land had been acquired by the city of New York and the new Carmine Bath House was named after Nicholas Carman, a colonial-era vestryman at Trinity Church. Although Manhattan Borough President George McAneny built what was considered a luxurious amount of showers for the community residents, he included only two bathtubs for men and two for women.

Instead of more tubs, a large portion of the budget went to furnishing the Carmine Bath House with “benches, weights, mats rigs, spring boards, vaulting horses, climbing ropes, poles, ladders, clubs, medicine balls, bean bags, basket ball goals, and other appurtenances to be found in up-to-date gymnasia.”

Thus a new Greenwich Village landmark was born, the Carmine Recreation Center, which would become in the next 90 years a home away from home for neighborhood youth, and the best deal in town if you want to join a health club.

Fifty-five years after George McAneny installed the first “basket ball goals,” a young lad named Ray Pagan showed up at “Carmine” to join a basketball team. Pagan loved the place so much he decided to stay for the next 37 years, eventually becoming the current Youth Director of the Greenwich Village Basketball League. He is a neighborhood legend, a father figure, and a mentor to over 700 boys and girls in the league. Everybody knows Ray Pagan.

“Our program gives children something to look forward to on weekends and more important, it gives them a sense of belonging,” said Pagan, drawing on his own experience. Along with coaches such as Ernesto Bustamante and Ishmael Delancy, Pagan works hard to create a sports environment where all children can learn about basketball.

“Basketball is not for kids to sit on the bench,” he explained. “Some kids can’t make their school team, but they are still young and ready to learn. So here the coaches get all the kids in the game for a meaningful amount of time,” Pagan stated firmly.

At Carmine, countless children, boys and girls have hurried up those old steps to the gym to be on time for their own important b-ball game. Baseball and soccer coach Ray Scardapane played basketball in his youth at the rec center, and now his two sons, Craig and Brent, enjoy the teams, the competition and mostly the chance to find a good pickup game now and then.

On Friday afternoons you might find neighborhood baseball coach Brian McKenna playing with his son, young Brian, and several buddies, a sight that is rare in this day and age of highly structured and expensive youth sports programs.

Thanks to team sponsors such as Villa Mosconi and Arturo’s Restaurant, the New York City Parks and Recreation Department does not charge any child to join the basketball league. There are a whopping 79 teams, 12 players on a team, and all the coaches are volunteers.

The Greenwich Village Basketball League is 41 years old and through the doors have passed several notable athletes, including Carmen Guzman, who is a freshman star on the University of Alabama, Birmingham, women’s basketball team.

Like a proud father, Pagan excitedly described how a contingent of players and coaches from Carmine recently attended an all-star tournament at Long Island University to watch Guzman play.

In a big city that often seems scary and unwelcoming to a child, Greenwich Village is fortunate to have the Carmine Recreation Center as a place where kids can hang out, play sports and have fun.

Aisha Delacruz, now 13 years old, has been coming to the rec center since she was 3. “Once I got hit in the head with a basketball in front of all my friends,” lamented Aisha, “but I was fine, I’m not a girly-girl.”

Wedged in between her friends, who were attentively listening to Aisha, she eloquently summed up the Carmine experience by saying, “My friends here are like a posse. No, I take that back. . .we are a just a group of really good friends, and everybody loves this place because it is so much fun here at Carmine.”


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