Every Friday was boys' night out for the Ugolyn clan of Ridgefield, Conn.
They'd head to the local YMCA and shoot hoops: Victor, the father; Tyler, the oldest son; and Trevor, three years behind his brother.
"Wonderful memories," said Victor, 62, a hint of sorrow in his voice.
"Tyler had an incredibly strong faith. And that's important for anyone in life."
So it's fitting that after Tyler died on 9/11, his father would use basketball -- and faith -- to turn unbearable grief into triumph that would one day play out in Indianapolis.
The Tyler Ugolyn Foundation, started shortly after Tyler, 23, died on the 93rd floor of World Trade Center Tower 1, strives to build character and provide educational opportunities for urban youths through basketball.
In a tradition that began in 2008, the foundation has committed to renovating a basketball court each year at a local YMCA at the NCAA men's basketball Final Four host city. This year's recipient is the Ransburg Branch, 501 N. Shortridge Road, on Indianapolis' Eastside.
The 50-year-old YMCA basketball court recently underwent a complete makeover, the results of which will be unveiled at a dedication on Easter Sunday.
The floor was sanded down and refinished. Walls received a new coat of paint. Old wooden bleachers were replaced with two metal sets. Two heating units "that sounded like airplanes taking off" were replaced with an efficient new model, said Ellie Pauley, Ransburg's executive director. The two backboards are brand-new.
Like other renovated courts, Ransburg's will bear the name "Tyler's Court" and display a plaque with Tyler Ugolyn's favorite quote: "I just love playing the game."
At Ransburg, half the members receive financial assistance, a major reason Victor Ugolyn, his wife, Diane, and son, Trevor, 28, selected it.
Tyler, who was a 6-foot, 4-inch basketball player at Columbia University, co-founded a basketball clinic for Harlem youths that continues to this day: the Tyler Ugolyn MVPs of Character Basketball Clinic, hosted each year by the Columbia basketball program.
"It's an honor for them to choose us," said Pauley, who unofficially opened the renovated court on Jan. 14, the day before the start of the YMCA's basketball season. "We've been blessed with this all the way around."
The timing of the gift could not have been better, as the struggling economy has forced organizations such as the YMCA to delay or even eliminate improvement projects. The renovation cost $30,000 -- $25,000 of which came from the foundation. The rest was funded by the Y.
Without the foundation, "we couldn't have done the work," Pauley said. "It was a much-needed renovation. It just could not have been done right now in these economic times."
Damian Roark, 14, who has been visiting the Ransburg Branch since 1997, likes what he sees.
"You actually don't slide. You stick," Damian, a student at Franklin Township Middle School West, said about the new floor.
"It's just better equipment," he added. "They went up, quality-wise."
Count Doug Walker among the Ransburg YMCA's devotees: He's been visiting the Y since 1960.
After a fire in 2002 forced a remodeling of the facility, officials decided to make the gym the centerpiece. After you check in and turn the corner, the gym beckons through a wall of glass.
"We wanted to have that 'wow' factor," said Walker, the chairman of Ransburg's board. "We've always had a 'nice' factor. Now we have a 'wow' factor."
The Ransburg project is the fifth Tyler's Court: The first was created in 2008 in San Antonio, followed by two during enshrinement weekend at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 2008 and 2009, and last year at the Final Four in Detroit.
At the Boll Family YMCA in Downtown Detroit, new scoreboards and bleachers were installed. Other funding paid for youth programs and a large display board that alerts the community to upcoming programs.
"You can't help but feel better about what you do and how you do it after meeting the Ugolyn family," said John Harris, executive director at Boll. "Obviously, something tragic affected the family. Through that tragedy, they've really grasped onto something that will continue to give back for generations to come."
From San Antonio to Springfield, thousands of youths, basketballs in hand, continue to benefit from Ugolyn's gift.
"My son gave back in so many ways," said Victor Ugolyn, who still lives in Ridgefield. "We're just continuing what our son would be doing. That's what it's all about."
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame works with Ugolyn Foundation to dedicate new Court in Indy
This story ran in the Indianapolis Star on March 31, a few days before the Final 4. The Hall of Fame works with the Ugolyn Foundation, the NCAA and the YMCA to refurbish and dedicate basketball courts in tribute to Tyler Ugolyn. See: