By Cary Shuman
Kyle Umemba and Cesar Castro, two up-and-coming community leaders, were asked why their “Let It Fly Classic” has become one of the most anticipated 18-under basketball tournaments in the entire Greater Boston area.
“The tournament has been such a success because Kyle and I know a lot of people in the basketball community and they’ve been very responsive to our efforts by bringing the most talented players here,” said Castro, who scored 1,223 points as a Chelsea star, second only to Craig Walker in boys basketball history.
The Let It Fly Classic will return for its third year this Saturday at the Jordan Boys and Girls Club on Willow Street, beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing until a champion is crowned. Umemba and Castro decided to bring the tournament indoors last year after using the adjacent Highland Park outdood courts in the first year.
The two young men believe the uniqueness of the event and festive atmosphere enhances its popularity.
“Nobody has really hosted a basketball tournament of this nature so everybody wants to come out and see what’s happening over here,” said Castro.
Kyle Umemba is a member of the well-known Cromwell family who has contributed to the betterment of the city for decades. His mother, Joan Cromwell Umemba, is president of the Chelsea Black Community (CBC) and both Kyle and Cesar agree that her support of the endeavor has been crucial from the outset.
“Thank you, Joan Cromwell, the big boss,” said Kyle and Cesar in unison. “We need her support and inspiration. She’s the best.”
The organizers also cited the immense support from Councillor-at-Large Damali Vidot. “She’s a worker. She’s out there helping the kids of Chelsea and doing a lot for our city.”
Councillors Yamir Rodrigues and Leo Robinson are “always helping kids” in Chelsea. “And a major shutout to City Manager Tom Ambrosino and Police Chief Brian Kyes, Captain Dave Batchelor and Officer Sammy Mojica and the Fire Department – they’ve been supportive since Day 1.”
Players from Chelsea, Cambridge, Lynn, Boston, Everett, Brockton and other nearby communities will be competing on the eight teams in the field. Basketball stars Ghared Boyce (Everett) and Jakigh Dottin (Cambridge) are set to play in the tournament.
“The state champions from Cambridge will be in the building again,” said Castro, an assistant coach of the CHS team under Judah Jackson, who will be a referee in the tournament.
Umemba said local businesses have again displayed their generosity to the Let It Fly Classic.
“The whole city stepped up for us,” said Umemba, who works in the financial industry and also doubles as a runway model. “The major sponsor this year is Blade Masters Barber Shop on Everett Avenue, who has made a substantial donation. But there are so many others: Today’s Auto Body, Chelsea Station, Floramo’s, New Bridge, Kirshon Paints, Katz Bakery, Chili’s, Dunkin Donuts and Renee Caso Griffin, John’s Pizza, Khelsea’s Pizza, Stop and Shop, Early Start clothing line – the list is long.”
While crediting his tournament co-director Castro for bringing in the amazing level of basketball talent, Umemba added, “The reason the tournament works is that we have the community come out with such an outpouring of love and outreach and unite for this one day. It’s a perfect mesh of forces and I think that’s why the Let It Fly Classic has been so successful. We have great basketball and it’s a lot of fun. And all the proceeds go to scholarships.”
Two 14-and-under teams from Chelsea and Boston will play in an exhibition prior to the championship game. There will be free food and free admission to all games.
Lynn won the first tournament while Cambridge took home’s last year’s crown. The players and coaches on the championship team will receive individual trophies. There is also a tournament MVP Award. Early Start Co. of Chelsea will present an individual bag of clothing apparel to each player.”
Reflecting on the first year of the tournament and its growth in popularity, Castro stated, “I looked at the crowd at the first tournament and I said, ‘wow, this is huge.’ “Now the kids are always asking me when the tournament is going to be held each year. They say, “is it going to be crazy good like last year,’ and my response is, ‘it’s going to be crazy.’’’
Added Umemba, “It’s going to be bigger and better every year and we just want to keep all the positive energy going.”