High-schoolers hustle to finish hoops project

Posted 3/23/23

Basketball means community for many of Port Townsend’s youth.

Whether it’s finding like-minded friends to grow with, learning life lessons on the hardwood, or just shooting around to …

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High-schoolers hustle to finish hoops project


Basketball means community for many of Port Townsend’s youth.

Whether it’s finding like-minded friends to grow with, learning life lessons on the hardwood, or just shooting around to stay active, the sport can mean a lot for local teens.

Four Port Townsend High School seniors — Michael Petta, Lorenzo McCleese, Toby Fulton, and Austen Hammer — are hoping to grow that community and give their peers a new space to prosper.

All former basketball players for the East Jefferson Rivals high school team, the students’ senior project will entail revamping the deteriorated outdoor basketball court behind Port Townsend High’s Gael Stuart Building on Blaine Street and renovating the space for current students, future students, and others to enjoy.

The seniors started fundraising on GoFundMe with the goal of collecting $20,000 to fund the basketball court renovation.


Sitting down with The Leader to discuss the project, Petta, McCleese, and Fulton discussed the significance of the sport on their lives and how the senior project came about.

The four first met in elementary school, forging their friendships through playing hoops.

“I met these guys in the recess court and started playing more and more and blossomed,” Fulton said, recalling his move to Port Townsend while in the fourth grade. “We got a friend group going and ever since then I’ve been playing and it’s become a big part of my life.”

“It started at recess, and we did create a large friend group and that made it a lot easier going into high school,” McCleese said. “It’s mostly about the connections is why I got into basketball. And I’m still playing and like it today.”

“Both of these guys I know because of basketball,” Petta said. “We built a community around it and I just wanted to keep hanging out with the other people who did it.”

Starting as freshmen in high school, the four students recalled playing hoops behind the Gael Stuart Building as underclassmen.

“We found [the court] because there’s this freshman-year health class and the garden down there,” McCleese said. “We would go down there to the garden and there’d be a couple old basketballs. And if we weren’t working in the garden, we’d try to play some basketball.”

Noting the declining, overgrown space, the four freshmen saw an opportunity to revamp the spot and envisioned a future court for students and locals to play on.

“We realized pretty quickly that this isn’t ideal. One of the rims is shorter than 10 feet, one of them’s a little bit above,” McCleese said of the space. “You couldn’t dribble, because there were patches of grass and it bounced the other way.”

“We basically thought of it as a senior project idea as soon as we were there freshman year,” Petta said. “The brainstorming started then.”


Fast forward to today, the four finally have the chance to turn their underclassman visions into reality. As with many projects, the first step was reaching out to key figures in the community, and school wellness director Darrell Thomas assisted the students with contacting helpful people.

“Them taking this on and making connections with the community partners and such, that’s been a beautiful thing to see,”

Thomas said. “It also connects a lot of our older citizens in the community to our youth, because there’s been times where that seems to be disconnected.”

Some community partners that have aided the four seniors include Jefferson County health specialist Laura Tucker, who helped them write grants for the renovation, as well as Bruce Seton of Seton Construction, whose assisted the students in outlining the construction side of the senior project.

“Laura Tucker, she made the whole thing happen with the funding process,” Petta said. “Bruce Seton has been really helpful with helping us figure out what we’re actually going to be doing with the actual court. He came out and looked at it with us and we got an image of what we wanted.”

The students have already secured a $5,000 grant from the county, taking their fundraising goal from $20,000 to $15,000.

“If we can raise more money, we can build another court adjacent to the old court,” McCleese said of the fundraising goal.

Part of receiving the Jefferson County grant involves adding drug prevention to one of the group’s project goals.

“We had to attack two sides. It wasn’t just youth outreach and physical activity, we also had to talk about drug prevention,” McCleese said.

The court’s location has been used in the past by students to use drugs, and the seniors are hoping the basketball court will provide a new alternative.

“The idea is we can put an alternative right in the way of that,” McCleese said of the planned basketball court’s location.

Other features the four seniors are hoping to add are new rims and backboards, line painting, grading and repaving the pavement, other maintenance, and ways to incorporate the adjacent school garden.

“If we have more time, we’re going to try and coordinate with the garden management,” McCleese said. “They want to expand, too, and we could make the area look nicer.”

One idea is to integrate garden plants with planned bleachers that could be added at the space.

“[Austen Hammer] is a welder so he’s going to try to add some cool things to the court,” Petta said. “With the garden and the court, there’s going to be a lot of nice things for people to enjoy.”


At the end of the day, the students are hoping the project will not only provide a new, youth-centered space in town, but also inspire others in the community.

“There’s not much opportunity for sports and I think us putting this together would be a great opportunity for younger the generation coming up,” Petta said. “It means a lot. Youth outreach is something that this town in the past has struggled with a little bit.”

“I hope it sets some sort of precedent or something,” McCleese said. “I’m hoping that maybe that will inspire some other people who are seniors or community members to help fund and start projects like this and other places.”

So far, the four high schoolers have raised $2,500 of the $15,000 needed to get the senior project to the finish line. To donate or help out, go to gofundme.com/f/pths-needs-an-outdoor-basketball-court.

“The Port Townsend School’s promise is to prepare every student to thrive in the world and change it for the better, so this senior project is an example of that,” said Superintendent Linda Rosenbury. “They’re problem-solving, building relationships, and fundraising to make the world a better place, so we’re so proud of our students for this project.”