New Britain's Friday Night Ballers program is more than just a game

NEW BRITAIN - Friday Night Ballers, a recreational basketball program for students in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, wrapped up its first 19 week session with an awards ceremony on Friday.

Families of students in the program joined them for an awards ceremony where students were presented a medal and invited to stay for a pizza social.

The program served approximately 80 students predominately from Slade, Pulaski, and DiLoreto Middle Schools. Students received basketball training and benefited from hearing from motivational speakers who encouraged positive relationships, building camaraderie, self-awareness and self-pride, according to a release from the school district.

“The program helped me grow better, not just in basketball but in life,” said Slade eighth-grader Pamela Irizarry. “It taught me integrity and pride.”

Dayleen Eatmon, another eighth-grader at Slade, agreed that she learned more than just basketball skills in the program.

“My coach, he would push me to the fullest,” said Eatmon. “They wouldn’t let you say can’t. They said that word shouldn’t be in our vocabulary.”

The program was organized by Slade Middle School Assistant Principal Janice Pina and her husband Carlos, a family school liaison at Maloney High School in Meriden. The program was implemented in the Meriden schools before it was introduced in New Britain.

The program was made possible through a partnership between the Consolidated School District and the New Britain-Berlin YMCA. Coaching was entirely volunteer based by members of the community which included school district employees, former college student-athletes and some city officials.

“It is so important that every student be connected to positive environments beyond school hours,” said District Coordinator of Partnership and Engagement, Sondra Sanford. “This program created an opportunity for these students to make invaluable connections to the community that instill pride in who they are and where they’re from. We are so appreciative of our partnership with the YMCA for providing this positive environment for our students on Friday nights.”

Irizarry said she is looking forward to participating in the program again next season.

“The coaches are great people with great hearts,” she said. “They saw hope in us and not everybody sees that.”

Michelle France can be reached at 860-801-5087 or at

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