Greater Hartford Pro-Am hopes to return to capital city for 25th anniversary season in 2023

·4 min read

After attending the Greater Hartford Pro-Am for 11 years, Barbara Raisner was given her own reserved seat at the scorer’s table. Now, in her 15th year attending the showcase, the 81-year-old basketball superfan has her own table — and her own team.

Barb’s Bouncers.

Raisner’s children each pitched in $1,000 to sponsor the team as an 80th birthday gift before last season. During the games, her personal-sized plastic folding table next to her team’s bench holds her personal items along with a bag of popcorn that the league’s founder and director Pete Higgins bought for her. She sits in her black “Barb’s Bouncers” T-shirt with the No. 80 on the back, enjoying the game she loves from the best seat in the Vale Sports Club facility.

After the first 16 years in Hartford, financial issues in the city forced stops in Waterbury and New Britain before finding the Pro-Am’s new home in the Vale gym in Middletown.

Next year, for the 25th anniversary, Higgins hopes to return to the capital city.

It’s all about money.

“If I’m able to get a big sponsor, which we’ve always tried to get, and they want to cover that $45,000 fee to get the gym, then by all means,” Higgins said. “I’m in Hartford. I don’t have a problem with that. But I can’t afford that right now.”

The Pro-Am is NCAA-sponsored, so it is not permitted to charge admission and has relied on sponsorships, which are plastered around the court and on the uniforms.

Exploring options, Higgins has been in communication with city council people and “other people with some big clout” who want to see the Pro-Am come back to Hartford for its milestone season.

Troy McKoy Sr., a Pro-Am legend who was an All-State guard for East Hartford High in the 1990s before playing at South Carolina and as a professional overseas, now works for the city’s recreation department.

“It’s still a great event,” said McKoy, who coaches his son, Troy McKoy Jr., on the All Faith Memorial Angels. “But a lot of the people that used to come out for every game don’t come out anymore.”

Would it be possible to move back? “Without question,” McKoy Sr. said. “[The Pro-Am] is just something to look forward to going to and playing — or even after I was done playing, going to watch. It was always a joy.”

Raisner loves the Vale facility, which has housed the Pro-Am for the last few seasons. It’s spacious with three courts and is air-conditioned. The game is the same. DJ Tall T’s tunes still play in the background, and Higgins emcees from tip-off to the final buzzer. But the atmosphere is different.

The UConn players who Raisner loved, and sat next to in her original reserved seat, don’t make the trip to Middletown. Attendance numbers are down, mostly because of the location.

Raisner seems to be in the minority when she says, “I like this location. It’s further for me from my home, but I love this big open gym. The others I felt claustrophobic.”

The Pro-Am takes over center court with three sets of bleachers across from the team benches with youth practices on the courts to the right and left.

This year’s regular season ends July 25, with the Championship Tournament beginning Aug. 1.

Higgins decided to create the league after being stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, with the U.S. Navy. He cooked for the admiral and attended a Johnson and Wales satellite campus when he took a wrong turn that had him driving past Lake Taylor High School — which was home to the Pro-Am league Allen Iverson played in after his first year at Georgetown. He stopped to watch Iverson, who had scored as many as 81 points in a game in that league.

Shortly after drawing his inspiration, Higgins moved back to Connecticut to be with his dad who had gotten ill. He contacted organizers in Virginia and created the GHPA in 1997.

His goal isn’t only to put on a show, but to give the players — many of whom are in high school or college — a chance to work out with and against older, more experienced players.

After a game Thursday, McKoy Sr. was doing just that.

He stood under one basket giving Brody Limric, a 6-foot-9 forward from Glastonbury who transferred to Central Connecticut State after his freshman season at Quinnipiac, some pointers on playing in the post.

On the other end of the court, Raisner was getting her own shots up. Regardless of where the Pro-Am games are played, Raisner will be there. With her own reserved seat, watching her team.