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  • Adrianna Donat


Updated: May 1

The resilience and renewal of SOMA Over 30 Basketball

L: Daniel Fraidstern and his son, Max, between games. C: No hard feelings: Craig Wolff and Robert Stout as they leave the court. R: Brian “Smitty” Krupkin and Daniel Greenblatt waiting to go in.

SOMA Over 30 Basketball is not just a league. It’s a testament to the enduring power of friendship, fun and shared passion. There’s a brotherhood forged on the courts, a story of resilience, camaraderie and the triumph of community over adversity.

The kernel of the league was planted in August 2016 when Steve Horwitz, who had recently moved to Maplewood, missed his pickup game back in NYC. He wanted to find a way to get a group of people together to play and have fun. Eventually he got in touch with former Mayor Vic DeLuca, who helped him find the right person in the Maplewood Recreation Department. Horwitz’s wife posted on Facebook asking interested players to gather at Maplewood Middle School. The league took off. “The league is really about everyone coming together to play fun, competitive basketball games,” says Horwitz.

In case you aren’t an NBA All Star, it’s good to know there’s no minimum skill level. “We have guys who can dunk and guys who can barely walk. They play in the same game. We just try to make sure they don’t guard one another,” says Horwitz.

Final teams for 3x3 annual tournament (L to R): Dan DeMonte, Alex Diaz, Craig Wolff, Shereef Hammad, Dante Lara, Hudson Mansfield, Mark Mansfield, and Robert Stout.

Brian Wood was part of the group Horwitz started. Before that he was in a recreational league and had a vision that extended beyond the game. “The [unstated] idea was to play in the rec league, then go to a bar and drink. I was looking for something else,” said Wood. Wood reached out to Horwitz, marking the first step of a journey that would transform casual basketball games into a tight-knit community. A group of regular players began to form.

The league first found a home at Maplewood Middle School, which worked well until the school closed for the summer. Things got complicated when Maplewood Township raised gym prices and offered limited time slots. The email list the league used for communication got messy. Faced with these challenges, Wood, an organizer by nature, took over communication and eventually became the person players in the league fondly refer to as “the Commissioner.”

Craig Wolff, Mark Mansfield, Nick Pattison (with ball), Jonathan Pang, and Dan DeMonte.

The league found a new home in the court in Memorial Park near Maplewood Town Hall, paying to reserve the public court but facing the challenge of displacing players already using it. In an effort to maintain a positive atmosphere, they offered to rotate in those already on the court, gaining new players and fostering a sense of inclusion.

An interesting pattern emerged when children playing on the court were invited to join the games. Players in the league are proud to report that despite the impressive skills of the younger players, the older players’ strategic acumen often prevailed. This inclusive approach led to a surge in participants, growing the league from 35 to more than 50 players.

Mark Mansfield is one of the players who rotated in when the league was playing in Memorial Park. Says Mansfield, “Shortly after I joined, my [11-year-old] son, Hudson, started coming out to watch the group and shoot around between games.”

Mark Mansfield and his son, Hudson, enjoying the game together.

One day the league was one player short and Hudson was “called up” to play in a game. “Since this is a 30-and-older group, they made an exception for him to join us, which speaks to the love and generosity of this group,” Mansfield says. Now many of the players bring their kids to the games, and a whole new generation is developing a love for this game and the type of community they see in the league.

In 2018 the expanding league adopted the name “SOMA Over 30 Basketball,” reflecting the ages of its players. At this point the league played at Maplewood Middle School and Golda Och Academy, which required the league to have insurance. This meant the league members needed to pay dues. With demand rising, Wood aimed to secure more playing space and formalize teams at South Orange Middle School, because it has space for two full-court games to run simultaneously.

But the onset of the pandemic in 2020 posed a significant threat to the league’s continuity. Public courts closed, rims were removed and the prospect of indoor play became too risky. Wood, fearing the disintegration of their community, took swift action. He explored alternative sports like Adult Ultimate Frisbee (“Adultimate”) and volleyball but faced another setback when even those relatively safer activities ceased.

In the absence of physical courts, Wood turned to technology to keep the league connected. Zoom calls became a lifeline, with more than 20 players joining each call. For many, SOMA Over 30 Basketball became a source of solace during the darkest days of the pandemic.

As restrictions eased enough to play outside in 2020, the league faced the challenge of finding safe outdoor courts. Wood’s perseverance led them to a neglected court in Kearse Park in Vauxhall near Manny’s Texas Weiners. Overcoming its dilapidated state with ladders, shovels, brooms, and leaf blowers, the players turned it into an acceptable if not ideal place to play. They played there for almost a year in masks. League numbers dipped to 21 players as play on this tiny court began. But playing became a source of therapy and comfort, forming a unique support system.

The league is playing a 5x5 game. They don’t wear uniforms or jerseys to differentiate between the teams but simply rely on their memory.

Commissioner Wood introduced a 3x3 tournament in November 2020. The tournament is now an annual event, eagerly anticipated by league members.

Eventually, they found a space in better condition to use in Livingston. Adapting to the new normal, the league introduced formal “mask breaks” during games, allowing players to take a breather while safely distanced.

Chris Donat guarded by Mark Mansfield. George Hobor is in the background.

The league’s commitment to safety endured as they requested vaccination cards from players in the summer of 2021. As all members became vaccinated, masks were shelved (except during COVID spikes), reflecting a sense of getting back to normal.

Emerging from the pandemic with fewer players but heightened energy, the league solidified its philosophy: have fun, play hard and don’t get hurt. The league, albeit administratively challenging, has become a family. Wood’s goal is clear. He wants the league members to play into their 70s, spinning off younger players into new age groups while maintaining the essence of the community.

As the league stands with 95 players on the mailing list and 56 playing weekly, they face the challenge of finding larger spaces to accommodate 5 players on each team. Plans to approach South Orange Middle School for additional gym space underscore the league’s commitment to growing while maintaining the tight-knit bond that defines SOMA Over 30 Basketball.

The league has bonded together a group of men who otherwise might never have met. The players look forward to their basketball days each week. “After a number of years with the group, I can only say it has become bigger than us,” says player Adam Friedland. “It has become a continually growing community and family. And there’s a lotta love.”

Adrianna Ahern Donat is a freelance writer married to a SOMA Over 30 player, who is now very familiar with the closest urgent care facilities.


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