When Liam Gany and Lucas Reznikoff co-founded the Wilton High School chapter of Full Court Peace, they wanted to make a difference in the lives of children less fortunate. At the time, they weren’t thinking about the impact this club might have on their own lives, but in speaking to these teens, it’s clear that their efforts have changed their perspectives.
Full Court Peace is a non-profit organization committed to uniting diverse communities through basketball. It was launched in 2006 by Mike Evans, who grew up in Weston. He started the initial program in Belfast, Northern Ireland, after observing the violent division between Catholics and Protestants there. His first team consisted of an equal number of Catholic and Protestant high school boys. He went on to bring the concept to other divided and underserved communities, including Havana, Cuba and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
For the past three years, he has focused on developing Full Court Peace clubs at high schools throughout Fairfield County to address the economic and opportunity disparities in this area through the game of basketball.
According to Liam, Wilton High School was one of the few area high schools that didn’t have a Full Court Peace club. Two years ago, while Evans was working with him on his shooting skills, he suggested that Liam start a Full Court Peace club at Wilton High School. Evans, who happened to be a close friend of the Reznikoff family, also had mentioned Full Court Peace to Lucas, and suggested the two boys meet. At the time, Liam was a Wilton High School sophomore and Lucas, a junior.
“I didn’t know Liam, although our older brothers were in the same grade,” admits Lucas. “But we began talking about starting a Full Court Peace club and decided we wanted to do it.”
The boys quickly realized that creating a new club at the high school was more complicated than they anticipated. “It took us several months in the fall of 2015 to get it going. We needed to collect enough signatures and find a faculty advisor, ” explains Liam. Because he played on the basketball team, he was able to recruit several players to join the club. Lucas brought several of his friends on board. “It worked out well that Liam and I were in different grades because we could reach out to different groups within the school,” Lucas says.
They launched the club in the spring of 2016 with fifteen members. The club meets every other week at 7:45 a.m. and is open to both boys and girls. Being a member of a basketball team is not a requirement, but an interest in basketball probably helps.
Evans suggested that the first community outreach project be replacing the baskets and repainting the lines on the basketball court at the Danbury Police Athletic League (PAL).
“There is only one public court in all of Danbury, which is a much larger town than Wilton, and a bunch of kids use that court,” notes Lucas. “But the lines were very faded, to the point that the court was really not usable.”
To raise money for the painting supplies and materials, they organized a fundraiser this past October. “Full Court Peace hosted a free-throw contest at Comstock on the outdoor basketball court. It was open to anyone who wanted to attend. Each participant had a chance to take 100 free throws and had to get pledges based on how many baskets they made.,” explains Lucas. “Our goal was to raise $1500, but we ended up raising over $5000,” adds Liam. The boys admit that collecting the pledges has been challenging and a learning experience, because “people pledge money but don’t always come through. We did get some big checks. One kid raised $1500 alone, and so far, we’ve gotten a $900 check from him.”
In late fall, Liam, Lucas and three other members of the Wilton High School Full Court Peace club, joined Full Court Peace club members from other Fairfield County schools to repaint the lines of the court at the Danbury PAL. Three hours and much taping and elbow grease later, the court sported freshly painted bright white lines. For Lucas, the project was even more rewarding because he remembers playing on that court when he was younger. “My grandmother lived in Danbury,” he explains.
The co-founders’ involvement with Full Court Peace hasn’t been limited to projects in Fairfield County. Both boys have participated at a Full Court Peace-sponsored summer basketball camp for disadvantaged kids, held in New Canaan. This past summer, Lucas coached the teams and Liam volunteered as a referee. They have also traveled to Havana, Cuba to refurbish basketball courts there. This coming summer, they will travel to Belfast to play basketball with the Catholic and Protestant kids in the Full Court Peace program there.
The boys acknowledge that starting Full Court Peace has exposed them to a world well outside their comfort zone. “We weren’t really aware of what’s outside of Wilton until we got involved. The contrast between Havana and Wilton is huge. Even Danbury is a different world from Wilton. It’s only 20 minutes away, but volunteering on the project there had as much of an impact on me as volunteering in Cuba, over 1400 miles away,” says Liam.
Full Court Peace has also taught them lessons about the challenges of starting an organization and the importance of commitment and follow-through in its success. The boys mention being disappointed when club members don’t attend the bi-monthly meetings, and they’ve learned that organizing fundraisers requires a huge amount of planning and work.
Despite the challenges of maintaining the club, their involvement with Full Court Peace has reinforced their commitment to helping others.
“It’s a lot of work but in end, it’s definitely worth it. Anything that you do to make someone else’s day better leaves you with a good feeling,” says Lucas, who graduates this coming May and plans to start a Full Court Peace club wherever he attends college.
Liam, who will be a senior next fall, plans to continue running the club and hopes to recruit new members from the freshman, sophomore and junior classes. Both boys agree that their involvement with Full Court Peace has benefitted them as much as it has helped others.
Pictured above: Liam Gany (right) and Lucas Reznikoff (left), co-founders of the Wilton High School club Full Court Peace, with the organization’s founder, Mike Evans.