Court of Dreams

Published by Tom Porter

Garrett Mitman ’22 says this summer has taught him one thing above all: “When you have a group of people pumped up about something, it’s amazing what you can achieve.” In this case, the achievement was the renovation of two basketball courts in a poor neighborhood of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic (DR).

Fixing the backboard. Los Mina, Santo Domingo, DR.
Fixing the backboard. Los Mina, Santo Domingo, DR.

When he did not receive a Global Citizen’s fellowship to teach in El Salvador this summer, Mitman was pretty disappointed, so he went to talk with Career Exploration and Development representative Todd Herrmann ’85 about what to do instead. After hearing about Island Hoops Project, the nonprofit Mitman had founded in high school to renovate a community basketball court in Turks and Caicos, Herrmann asked, “Is there a way you could continue doing that?”

Mitman had heard of a nonprofit called Full Court Peace (FCP), run by former Hamilton player Mike Evans. Like Island Hoops Project, FCP seeks to strengthen low-income and at-risk communities through basketball. “Mike has done work all over the world,” says Mitman, “including Cuba, Mexico, Northern Ireland, and around the US.”

When Mitman reached out to Evans at Herrmann’s suggestion to propose a summer collaboration, Evans told him about a court in need of repair in the Los Mina neighborhood of the DR’s largest city, where most of the population lives in extreme poverty. “The court was in really bad shape,” says Mitman, “as the community did not have the resources for the upkeep.”  He and Evans decided to join forces to put down a new surface with extra grip, add new hoops, mend the bleachers, and fix the lights.

Hansel Enmanuel Donato Domínguez with his brand new Pumas.
Hansel Enmanuel Donato Domínguez with his brand new Pumas. He loves to play basketball despite losing an arm at an early age, says Mitman.

After Mitman secured a Bowdoin Funded Internship Grant for the summer project, Herrmann introduced him to Max Staiger ’13, a former Bowdoin player working for Puma. Staiger quickly offered to assist. Not only did Puma donate $5,000 for the court renovations and 300 pairs of shoes for the local athletes, they also offered to create a court design specific to the Los Mina Project.

“When the guys saw the shoes, they lit up—they were so excited!” says Mitman. “One of the reasons I picked Bowdoin is I had heard so much about the community, how people support each other and are willing to go to bat for each other. So, when Max jumped in and said he wanted to help, I thought it was so cool to get to live that experience.”

A total of $10,000 was raised, and the renovation work was done over five days in July. During that time, Mitman was joined by Bowdoin teammates Caleb Cost and Nick Foley, also sophomores, who took time from their summer jobs to help. From the moment they arrived, the three were struck by the community’s enthusiasm and support.  “We painted alongside coaches, athletes, and community members by day,” says Mitman “and played with them under the lights by night.” 

Watch a video of the opening ceremony.

The Puma court design resulted from many conversations between Mitman, Staiger, Evans, local league director Emmanuel Emilio Romero Concepcion, coaches in the DR, and Puma Basketball’s design team. The handshake design, painted at midcourt by local artist Pelotero, captures well the spirit and collaboration underlying the project, says Mitman.

Sports have such a power to tie people together and foster pride, and part of that is having a safe and accessible place to play,” he adds. “After working all week in Los Mina to get the court ready, we had an opening ceremony where we handed out the shoes, then held a tournament in which we got to play. It was a breathtaking experience to get involved with a community like Los Mina and be able to help local athletes in such a concrete and positive way.”