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East Haven native Bill Barker is the founder of Madison Hoop Dreams, an organization that has supported a variety of community organizations and scholarships over its 26 years. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Boris )
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For more than 50 years, Bill Barker has been a fixture in on the shoreline—first as a teacher and coach in Madison schools, then as the founder of the Slamma Jamma basketball camps, which he has run for 26 years, as well as a member of a number of other charitable groups and organizations.
Bill grew up in East Haven where he met his high school sweetheart, Barbara. The couple got married while Bill attended college—he first played basketball at Dartmouth College before transferring to Southern Connecticut State University. The couple now lives in Madison where they raised their four children.
“We got married young and it’s been a blessing that it’s been as wonderful as it’s been,” says Bill.
While Bill has loved living in Madison, he is very thankful to have grown up in East Haven where he began his basketball career. In high school, he played under Coach Frank Crisafi, who he says was “one of the best coaches in the State of Connecticut,” noting Crisafi was named National Coach of the Year in 1980.
After graduating from Southern, Bill began his teaching career at Madison’s Academy School as a 6th-grade teacher before teaching middle school math and then moving to the high school as a math teacher. At age 26, he was hired as Hand’s varsity basketball coach and throughout his 16-year tenure, the program posted a 248-107 record and went to the state championship game twice.
Just three years before he retired in 1996, Bill started the Slamma Jamma Basketball Camp, now known as Madison Hoop Dreams, in Madison but drawing from throughout the shoreline area. Over the past 26 years, more than 10,000 campers and 500 coaches have been involved with the camp.
“I don’t know how many camps around that have served 10,000 campers and being able to employ 500 coaches is nice,” says Bill. “Most of the coaches are kids who have been through program. I go to basketball games during the season...and I’m so proud to see that most of the players on the court have attended my camp. It’s fun to see them show their skills off at the high school level.”
The first year that Bill ran the camp, it was just one week, but it steadily grew and he added weeks over the years, including girls-only weeks. For many years, he hosted the camp in Madison, but due to building availability, this year, he was back in his hometown of East Haven with five weeks of camp.
During camp, players are assigned to teams in their age groups and each day, there are drills, instruction from guest speakers and coaches, a morning and afternoon game, and contests. Most weeks, Bill has also arranged for Taliek Brown, the director of player development at UConn, to speak with campers and he often brings players from the Huskies along.
“The kids love meeting the players and they get to take pictures with them,” says Bill. “We have two full games every day and the rest is fundamentals and developing individual skills. We also have a coach and assistant coach for every team, so we’re able to give the players more instruction and more validation.”
While having impacted the basketball careers of more than 10,000 campers over the past two decades has been fulfilling, what even more rewarding for Bill and his family has been the change from Slamma Jamma to Madison Hoop Dreams (MHD). With Slamma Jamma, Bill was supporting local charities and helping campers in need to attend camp, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the organization became a non-profit, now known as MHD.
“My daughter [Tammy Boris] was at the high school awards night and saw there were football and soccer scholarships but not basketball so she suggested we become a non-profit and be able to give scholarships,, so we did,” says Bill. “Anyone who’s attended my camp is eligible to put in for scholarships and our committee reviews the applications. I’m very proud that we’re doing something worthwhile in the community.”
Since 2007, MHD has donated more than $125,000 to charity, including $60,000 in scholarship money for graduating seniors, he says. The camp also offers scholarships to those in need so any child interested in basketball can attend camp. In addition, over the years, the organization has sponsored Wounded Warriors and children from St. Jude’s and Shriners Hospital for Children.
“We’ve sponsored five from each organization every year because that’s the number of people on a basketball team,” says Bill. “With Wounded Warriors, I was inspired by the need to support the people who are putting their lives on the line so we can have activities like MHD and our freedoms. I’d seen ads for St. Jude’s and Shriners and both really touched me.”
Last June, the charitable efforts of Bill and MHD were recognized at the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner when MHD was named the Non-Profit of the Year.
Boris—who still works at the camp, running registration, camper check-in, and more—has not only enjoyed seeing the camp grow over the years, but she’s also enjoyed being able to work with her dad.
Boris isn’t the only one in the family who has worked at camp over the years. Bill’s son-in-law Greg Smith was the director for many years and went on to coach varsity basketball at Woodstock Academy where he led his team to a state championship in his third year. His son Brent Wellington Barker III worked as a coach throughout high school and college and his daughters, Robin Smith and Kim Abbott, also worked at camp over the years.
Another generation of Bill’s family has also gotten involved, spending time working at MHD, including grandchildren Madison Boris and Brendan Smith, as well as Tyler Boris, who is currently coaching at camp. Bill and Barbara other grandchildren include RJ and Teagan Abbott and Mackenzie Smith. Their great grandchildren are Avett Smith and Georgia Grant.
“It’s been wonderful to be able to work with my dad for so many years and it’s phenomenal going to the rec or high school or even college games to watch our kids,” says Tammy Boris. “Our scholarship program has helped a lot of kids, which is so important and it feels good to be able to do that. I’ve always worked with kids and non-profits to give back to the community and I got that from my parents.”
In addition to seeing her dad work on MHD, Tammy has seen Bill give back in many other ways. Over the years, Bill has been the vice president at the ABC House, president of the Madison Athletic Hall of Fame, and a deacon at the Congregational Church.
“Being of service to other people should be important to everybody,” says Bill. “If you have the ability to help others, formally or informally, you should do it. I’m happy to take it on and try to make it a better world.”
For information or to register, visit www.madisonhoopdreams.com.
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