Chelsea High School will be the center of the basketball universe Saturday when Kyle Umemba and Cesar Castro host their sixth annual Let It Fly Classic in the Saul Nechtem Gymnasium.
Hundreds of basketball enthusiasts will pack the CHS gym for the hoop fest that brings the best players in the area to the city.
Both Umemba and Castro have drawn plaudits for creating a festive, high-energy environment that rivals that of the Rucker Tournament that brought so much excitement to the famed Rucker Park in Harlem, New York City.
There will be free food, raffles, and a daylong basketball extravaganza that begins at 10 a.m. The tournament’s first-ever elite girls basketball game will be played at 2 p.m. while the championship games are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The inspiration for Let It Fly
Why did former high school basketball stars Kyle Umemba (BB&N) and Cesar Castro (Chelsea High) want to put Chelsea on the basketball map with a premier showcase during the summer, which is the off-season for the sport?
“With us both being Chelsea residents who were born and raised here, Cesar and I saw that there wasn’t really a summer activity or something major for students to do in the city,” said Umemba. “There were no summer basketball tournaments or leagues. We wanted to create an environment where the players and fans could leave their everyday stress and come to this tournament and have a good DJ, have free food, have good talents and create a New York Harlem Rucker Park kind of vibe, but within Chelsea and I think we have done that.”
Castro said local teams had to travel to other communities to compete in high-profile tournaments. Now, Chelsea is the destination for the best basketball players in the region.
“Having the top players in New England coming to Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city of two square miles – it’s like wow, all these top-level players are coming to our city, everyone gets excited,” said Castro.
‘Seeing is Believing’
Celtics fans can remember Kevin Garnett screaming, “Anything is possible,” after winning the 2008 NBA championship.
Umemba said the Let It Fly Classic shows the players that “they can do it” that, like Garnett said, anything’s possible. The Let it Fly Classic is inspiring.
“Disney has a quote, ‘seeing is believing,’ – Let It Fly allows everyone to see what they can be and what they can do,” said Umemba. “Anything is not beyond their reach. Anything is possible when you see it.’’
Umemba said when Castro became an assistant coach at Chelsea High, the players began working harder in order to be competitive at the Let It Fly Classic and “put their names up there as well as being a great player.”
Scholarships for Chelsea students
The Let it Fly Classic committee has presented thousands of dollars in scholarships in to Chelsea students. Two years ago, Let It Fly generously provided 10 individual scholarships. Last year, when Let It Fly was canceled due to the pandemic, the committee provided three scholarships.
Support from the CBC and President Joan Crowmell
Kyle Umemba’s mother, CBC President Joan Cromwell, has been one of Let It Fly’s off-court MVPs. She also believes the tournament inspires young basketball players toward high goals.
“I think the Let It Fly Classic delivers the message that the sky is the limit,” said Cromwell. “It just takes us back to what Chelsea was like years ago, that the community comes out and celebrates together and the kids see that. It’s not different corners of the city sticking to themselves – it’s everyone coming together and celebrating basketball as a sport. Saturday will be a great day when the community comes out.”
Cromwell said Attorney General Maura Healey, a former Harvard women’s basketball captain, is an invited guest. Supt. of Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta is also expected to be in attendance and will be given the honor of tossing a ceremonial “jump ball” at center court.
There will be an MGH vaccination van and a COVID information table. Back-to-school supplies have been donated by Jeffrey Brito of Hood Ink Tattoo Zoo of Lynn.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, Police Chief Brian Kyes, and Today’s Collision are among the team sponsors.