Hoops League Is More Than a Contender

January 13th, 2009 - The Examiner News

Four-on-Four League Gaining Popularity in Armonk

Rob Forcelli never intended to organize an adult four-on-four basketball league.

Forcelli, a personal trainer at The Gym in Armonk, who has worked with former New York Knicks Allan Houston and Howard Eisley, would hold workouts for his clients incorporating a variety of basketball drills for its fitness benefits.

“That’s where this was started from,” said Forcelli. “It wasn’t started for the basketball. It was started for the workout.”

Houston was with Forcelli at a workout, going through the drills and playing basketball with the participants. The response to the session was so overwhelmingly positive it became the impetus for Contenders Basketball.

(Houston) definitely was part of the process,” said Forcelli. “It piqued people’s interest a lot quicker than if I was just doing it myself.”

A year and a half later, Contenders Basketball has become so popular that it has rapidly expanded and already made a name for itself as one of the most competitive and enjoyable adult leagues around.

Initially, Contenders Basketball started with four teams and held an open tryout for 25 interested players. Teams were divided into six-player squads, and the league has grown from there. With games played at The Gym, Contenders’ fourth session had 10 teams and its fifth, which began Jan. 10, launched with 12 teams. There are also 15 to 20 players on a waiting list if the league continues to expand, which could lead to Forcelli’s ultimate goal—a 20-team league. This session will run 16 weeks, not including playoffs.

“Right now, The Gym is trying to find space for the day care so I can expand it 14 to 16 teams in the fall,” said Forcelli. “I’ll try to take it as far as I can.”

When a new team enters the league, the players have to go through a screening process. They come in for a scrimmage with an already-established team, and players are selected from the waiting list to fill the sixman roster. Forcelli makes sure to round out the roster with players that will maintain the league’s competitive balance. Each game is full court but is played on a smaller-thanregulation surface. One referee officiates the contest.

“My job is to make sure teams are competitive,” he said. “It’s been a huge success.”

Forcelli has only recently branched out into basketball. He was an amateur boxer, going 16-2 and gaining recognition as a Golden Gloves contender. He parlayed that success into personal training and group fitness, which has been his career for the past 17 years. Forcelli maintains hundreds of private clients and uses basketball, as well as boxing, as a training tool in many of his workouts.

“They were having fun, and they were keeping themselves in shape,” said Forcelli. “I didn’t design it to be competitive, but right now, it is so competitive that (players are) reliving their youth.”

Most league participants are in their late 30s and early 40s, (the oldest is 55), which makes health and injuries a major concern. This is where Forcelli’s background in personal fitness comes into play.

“My job is to make sure (they) don’t get hurt,” Forcelli explained. “You really have to gain their trust that they’re safe. Once that’s established, then the other particulars come along.”

Many of the league’s players, like Armonk’s Bobby Barad, a 37-year-old attorney, live in the area. Barad had played pickup games for years in the city and looks forward to the weekends, even though games sometimes begin before 7 a.m.

“If there’s a weekend where we’re not playing, it’s miserable,” he said. “We really love it. It’s so much fun.”

Investment banker Rick Schnall, 39, said he and some of the other players participate because it seemed like a fun way to stay in shape. But Contenders Basketball has evolved into a passion for most of the guys, with statistics and standings maintained and the games hotly contested.

“Most of the games are close and that makes it fun,” Schnall said.

Stats for scoring, rebounding and assists are kept for every game. At the end of each session, a league MVP is chosen and rewarded with a jacket embroidered with the letters M-V-P and the year. The league fee is $400 per player for each session. For that price, not only do the players get a chance to take part in an evenly matched, competitive league, but Forcelli provides motivational tips and personal training advice as well.

“I keep the ticket high because I want (people) to know (they’re) in an upscale setup from the minute (they) walk in the gym,” he said.

While Contenders Basketball emphasizes fitness and competition, the league does not tolerate bad behavior—to referees or fellow players. Forcelli has had to eject only two players, both coming when the league was still in its four-team infancy. One of those players, however, has returned and made a complete turnaround to be a productive
player, he said.

Contenders Basketball has also grown into more than just a basketball league. Barad said that some of the players have become good friends. Members have made business deals with each other and have developed relationships on and off the court. While it is more than just playing a game every week, there is genuine excitement among the players every chance they get to play.

The league’s motto is “Bring your best and nothing less.” Forcelli does his best to lead by example going out of his way to help the players “experience the beauty of the game of basketball and the benefits it has as a workout.”

“People know they’re in really good hands,” Forcelli said. “That’s the way you should be treated when you’re going somewhere outside of the everyday stresses of life.”

Source: The Examiner News