Lisa Jardine

Column: He shoots and everyone scores

Participants in Backyard’s basketball tournament. Photos courtesy

Participants in Backyard’s basketball tournament. Photos courtesy

I’m always amazed by the power of a grassroots effort.

A few local individuals with a great idea fused with limitless passion can affect real change in people’s lives. The story of Backyard Sports Cares is one of those efforts that started in Westchester County in 2007 and now touches the lives of more than 4,000 underserved and special needs children each year.

Backyard Sports Cares is the non-profit division of Backyard Sports, the leading provider of community team sports programs for kids of all ages in Westchester County. Danny Bernstein, the executive director, is the founder and creator of Backyard Sports. Backyard Sports Cares represents Danny’s vision to use sports as a means to bridge communities of diverse populations and demographics.

Backyard Sports Care runs soccer programs for underserved children.

Backyard Sports Care runs soccer programs for underserved children.

“The fruits of athletic competition can only be realized when young athletes, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities, can compete, not necessarily against each other, but with one another. Backyard Sports Cares was created out of a belief that sports can level playing fields across socio-economic divisions and bridge communities of young players,” Bernstein said.

The organization holds its biggest fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, and if you are a basketball devotee, this is the charity event tailor-made for you. It’s Backyard’s second annual three-on-three basketball tournament that will be held at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown from 9 a.m.
to 3 p.m.

The tournament is split into three divisions, Open, the most competitive; 35-plus and Recreation, for all ages from high school up, and is run in a round robin format.

There will be NBA alumni, on-air talent and the Knicks City Dancers to

cheer everyone on. There are a limited number of teams in all levels and entry costs $1,500 per team which may include three to five players.

The entry fee also includes jerseys, food, drinks, entertainment and the all-important trophies. There will also be a memorable halftime six-on-six special needs all-star scrimmage.

SUNY Purchase is home to the many programs that Backyard Sports Care offers.

SUNY Purchase is home to the many programs that Backyard Sports Care offers.

“We are excited to host this event again. This is a unique opportunity for basketball enthusiasts to experience playing at the state-of-the-art MSG facility while helping raise funds for children in our area who do not have traditional access to sports programming,”
Bernstein said.

Every season throughout the school year, Backyard Sports Cares is on location at various schools across Westchester before and after the school day, providing much needed sports training to the underserved community. They partner with local organizations, like the White Plains Youth Bureau and the Carver Center in Port Chester, to custom tailor their programs to meet the needs of the children in each community.

Examples of some of the programs Backyard Sports Care provides include an after school athletic experience in all the White Plains elementary schools teaching more than 600 challenged youths over a 20-week period for the EXCEL program in USTA-sponsored tennis, soccer, basketball and, just recently, lacrosse as well as Amazing Afternoons at the Edward Williams Elementary school in Mt. Vernon, which offer a safe, positive and nurturing after-school experience for 125 children from first to fifth grade that are considered at risk.

In New Rochelle, Backyard addressed an issue of unsupervised early morning school drop-offs at Jefferson Elementary School by providing coaching and team play for students to engage in soccer and basketball prior to the start of the school day. The program has had a transformative effect in the classroom. The principal and teachers report increased attendance and an overall better adjusted student at the start of the day.

Underserved and special needs children take part in Backyard’s three-on-three basketball tournament.

Underserved and special needs children take part in Backyard’s three-on-three basketball tournament.

Backyard also provides the special needs community, for children ages 5 to 15, with a safe and appropriately competitive program to learn and enjoy team sports. The activities focus on athletic development skills while stressing the proper behaviors required for optimal group cooperation. The program, which is held at SUNY Purchase, is staffed with a combination of outstanding teacher/coaches and high school peer mentors with a 1:1 teaching ratio.

These programs build skills, confidence and self-esteem as well as a love and devotion to sports and fitness. Linda White-Banta, the mother of a special needs child first got involved with Backyard Sports Cares when her son participated in the program.

“It made a huge difference in his life,” White-Banta said. “At the time, there was no program for someone like him to participate in, to learn skills, to play a sport like soccer.  And the program has other benefits as well. It brings families of special needs children together and provides an opportunity for all of us to make new friends.”

For more information on Backyard Sports Cares, visit or call 914-304-4052.