NEW BRITAIN - For 27 years, the Osgood Shootout tournament has been a mainstay in both the New Britain and basketball communities.
In what started out as an event at Osgood Park in 1992, it quickly became one of the biggest tournaments in New England. It’s since moved to New Britain High School to allow for a more formal setting and has routinely attracted a number of big names, including those with NBA resumes and other NBA hopefuls. Past alumni include former UConn standouts and NBA All-Stars Andre Drummond and Kemba Walker, while Jared Sullinger, Jordan Williams, Jerome Dyson, Jared Jordan, Ryan Gomes, James Thomas, Anthony Ireland and Marcus Camby have all taken part over the years. Jonathan Kuminga, a consensus five-star recruit for the Class of 2021, who recently signed a 1-year deal with the NBA G League, played in the event in 2018. The tournament has also been a place other locals legends and star players come back to.
This year was supposed to be the 28th annual tournament. But for the first time since 1991, there was no event for Darwin Shaw, the tournament’s founder, to organize, no teams to field or players to worry about. Another tough outcome as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been hard because [the pandemic] started in March and not knowing if it was going to break or if I was going to be able to do it,” Shaw said. “And then when May came around, I put it in my mind there wasn’t going to be a tournament.
“No. 1, if I asked for the facilities at the high school, I know I’m not going to get the facilities. No. 2, I started at the park, and if I brought it to the park, I would have more people there than I would have at the school and I said I’m not going to do any of that. Let’s say cases came from all of these people coming because people always show up for the tournament. I don’t want to be the one responsible for initiating such a large gathering. Since there hasn’t been a lot of stuff [going on], there would have been a large crowd at Osgood Park.”
It still wasn’t an easy decision. With a number of leagues opting to play outside this summer, Shaw said he had players and coaches calling him up until last week asking about the tournament’s status. Some coaches even offered for Shaw to come to their towns or cities as an alternate site, something that would allow the event to go on this year. But once that idea was broached, Shaw quickly turned it down.
That he said wouldn’t be the Osgood Shootout.
“The Osgood originated in New Britain. I’m not bringing it to someone else’s city just to have it,” Shaw said. “That’s not what it is based on. It’s based on doing something for our community.”
So Shaw went to work another way this summer, making sure the primary focus of the Osgood Shootout continued - giving local students scholarships - even if the basketball part didn’t. Over the past 28 years, Shaw and the Osgood Shootout have handed out 83 scholarships, including nine Albert A. Vieira scholarships - named after one of Shaw’s former coaches and a New Britain legend in his own right - which started in 2016.
Shaw reached out to a number of businesses who had been an event sponsor in previous summers to see if they were willing to support the scholarship fund again. In the end, Shaw was able give away six $500 scholarships to 2020 New Britain High School graduates: Stella Ofei, Michael Gajda, Raven Symone Jarrett, Benio Ayika, Tianna Sweeney and Tarik Hetmyer with the final two as recipients of the Vieira scholarships.
Ofei was a member of the girls indoor and outdoor track teams and also played soccer. An honor rolls student, she will be majoring in biochemistry at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Gajda was a standout for the Hurricanes’ baseball team for four years. An honor roll student as well, he’ll be playing next year at American International College in Springfield and is majoring in exercise science.
Jarrett was a standout on the volleyball and basketball courts, as well as on the track, where she became the first New Britain female athlete to ever win the CIAC heptathlon in 2019. She will begin studying at American International College as well and plans on majoring in Criminal Justice
Ayika was a member of the boys basketball team for four years. He made the high honor or honor roll every quarter and was a member of the National Honor Society. Ayika will be majoring in biology at UConn.
Sweeney, meanwhile, was a member of the girls basketball team for four years and was a team captain during her junior and senior seasons. She holds the school record for rebounds in a game with 22. Sweeney will begin her studies at Mitchell College in New London and plans on majoring in psychology.
Hetmyer he was a member of the football team for four years and was a captain and all-conference selection in his senior season. An honor roll student as well, he will begin his studies at Southern Connecticut State University where he plans on majoring in business administration.
“I wanted to do the scholarships because that’s what the tournament is about anyway,” Shaw said. “So I said I’m going to reach out to some sponsors from the past couple of years and see if they were willing to contribute or not. If I didn’t get any kind of feedback, I was going to pass the whole year up and wait to next year, and see if things would be back to normal. I’m overwhelmed by the fact that the people knew this tournament was more than just basketball. The entertainment is great for people to see the NBA players who play in it. That’s a great piece, but to support when there’s no basketball, that shows me they really care. It shows me there’s an opportunity to come together for one mission and that’s our youth.”
Of course, there is still the matter of when sports will be able to return to normal. But when that does happened, Shaw plans on having both parts of the Osgood Shootout - basketball and the scholarships - a mainstay in New Britain once again. Until then, he’s glad something good was still able to come out of this summer, especially for the students.
For next year, we’re hoping we can get back to normal and get some NBA players I usually have come,” Shaw said on the future of the Osgood Shootout. “Definitely not closed down forever. I’m just so grateful the scholarships were able to happen this year. I give all the praise and honor to the Lord because he said if you do this and follow that, it’s going to happen and it happened.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org