Rec Department Men's Summer Basketball Flourishing With Stentz, Moorhead at Helm
By Bill Alden
The players in the Princeton Recreation Department men's summer basketball league were pumped up for opening night last Monday.
Shots were flying, sneakers were squeaking, balls were bouncing, and a large volume of trash talk was filling the air around the Community Park courts.
But it's safe to say that the two most excited people at courtside for opening tipoff were league commissioner Ben Stentz and his longtime friend and associate Evan Moorhead.
Stentz and Moorhead were present at the league's creation in 1989 when they played for the Princeton High entry in the first year of the hoop's competition.
The duo graduated from playing in the league to managing teams, with Moorhead's Café Piazza taking the championship in 1997.
Stentz served as the commissioner of the league in 1997-1998 and from 2000 to present. Moorhead guided the league in the summer of 1999.
While devoting three nights a week from mid-June to early August running hoops tripleheaders may not seem like a fun way to spend the summer, Stentz and Moorhead wouldn't have it any other way.
"I like to say on the microphone before the games that half of the league is about basketball, half is about community, and half is about humor," said Stentz with a chuckle, noting that many have questioned his math skills. "On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights in the summer, there's no other place I'd rather be."
For Moorhead, the league has carved out a special place in his yearly routine. "It's the only time I see some of these people all year," said Moorhead, who along with Stentz handle such duties as setting the league's schedule, lining up game officials, keeping the scorebook, doing the public announcing at the games, and mediating any disputes that break out in the heat of battle.
"I see people who I competed against for a number of years. I've coached kids in youth leagues who now are playing. It's a bit of a reunion. It's a summer institution in the community and in my life."
Stentz and Moorhead, who both work at the Rec Department, have played an integral role in making the league an institution.
From its humble beginning 16 years when the league had three teams, it grew to eight teams by the early 1990s. This summer will see an all-time high of 11 teams in action.
In Stentz's view, the league's growth was due to several factors. "Some other summer leagues were in decline when we started," recalled Stentz.
"Our league started getting a reputation as a well-run league where games started on time, refs got paid on time, and there wasn't a crazy environment."
The league's efficiency got the attention of some of the better basketball players in the area. The rosters are now stocked with current and former college players and two summers ago the league was rated by one basketball website as the third strongest summer league in New Jersey.
"We got some good players and the word spread," said Moorhead, noting that the league has benefited from the pipeline of Princeton University players who have participated over the years. "The high school had a good run in the early 1990s and we got some good players from that."
While league's chief feature may be the intensely competitive basketball on display, it isn't just hoops that keeps people coming back.
"It's not just about the guys and the basketball, it's about the community that enjoys watching," declared Stentz.
"I want to see the kids, parents, and girlfriends all around. We have about 25 people who come every night who aren't related to anyone playing, they just enjoy the atmosphere. My goal at the end of the day is for it to be a real community activity. It transcends wealth, color, and class. Evan and I take the extra time to make sure that it is fun for everybody."
Moorhead has certainly had fun working with Stentz to create that kind of atmosphere. "It makes it all the more fun to sit down there with somebody I've known for 20 years," asserted Moorhead. "We went to battle together at Princeton High. We've shared some highs and lows and a lot of inside jokes."
According to Stentz, the duo is poised to share a few more laughs around the Community Park courts.
"Evan and I were joking at the end of last season that we had just finished the last year of a 15-year contract," remembered Stentz. "We said that 2004 would be the first year of our second 15-year contract."
All of those who enjoy those summer nights at the Community Park
courts can only hope that Stentz and Moorhead will fulfill that