“We’re all losers on the Trashketball court:” Amateurs shoot hoops

Zachary Kurtz and Aryan Palla

“Trashketball is a judgment free zone, an arena of healthy competition with absolutely no real stakes,” Trashketball Commissioner, co-captain of the Bad News Berensons and history teacher David Berenson ’95 said. “Whether you win or lose, we’re all losers on the Trashketball court.”

Trashketball is a basketball league for juniors and seniors who are not on the varsity basketball teams. Each team has two senior captains and ten players who are drafted at the beginning of the season. The regular season, where all of the teams play, spans from November till February. The league also has a playoff season in March where the top teams face off against each other.

The game is only open to juniors and seniors because they are the only ones who can handle both the responsibility and the heartbreak, Berenson said. “Everyone knows ninth and tenth graders are very brittle.”

The game is similar to four-on-four basketball with some modifications. Each game is played to 11 points and teams must win by only one point. Special shots called pod shots and super pod shots that happen in designated areas are worth more points — pod shots happen inside the key behind the half-court line and super pod shots are taken from three-quarter court behind the volleyball lines.

This year will be the first full Trashketball season since 2019 due to the pandemic. The first season at the school took place during the 1979-1980 school year and was created by Head of the Physical Education Department Walter Beisinger, who captained a team called The Slime.

As commissioner, Berenson is responsible for the administrative work that goes into running the league, he said. “I set up the draft, I organize the schedule, I make sure we have a fair and healthy competition, though I am open to bribes.”

Berenson never played Trashketball as a student at the school because he was so terrible, he said. He has since conquered his anxiety and played as a teacher for 15 years. He became league commissioner in 2014.

In the past, the same 12 team names were used each year. However, in recent years, the captains of each team chose their own team name. Some of this year’s teams are the Froot Hoops, the Ext-ria-mists, the Bing Bong Ballerz, Quilty’s Fanclub, and the Untouchaballs.

Each Trashketball team is captained by one male identifying or non-binary and one female identifying or non-binary student. This rule was introduced by Berenson to encourage co-ed play, he said. “I try to make it so it’s not just toxic masculinity,” he said. “Now there’s some toxic femininity as well.”

Berenson co-captains his team with Madi Four-Garcia (12). It is a definite conflict of interest for him to captain a team and play while serving as league commissioner, he said. “As they say, power corrupts. Truth is, I’m highly uncoordinated, so it doesn’t really help my team’s prospects for me to be on the court. However, what I lack in skill, I make up for in unintelligible shouting.”

Corey Brooks (12) and Ria Chowdhry (12) are the co-captains of the Ext-ria-mists. Brooks was excited to draft and manage a team with his friends, he said. His brother, Zach Brooks ’20, always told him stories about Trashketball drafts and games, which inspired Corey to join the league, he said.

“It’s one of the final vestiges of old Horace Mann because during the draft, you’re choosing which kids are the best and you’re picking trashy names, and it’s all about hyper competition,” Brooks said. “But there’s also a certain levity to it, and in and of itself it is a commentary on Horace Mann’s competitiveness.” Trashketball is about seeing how serious and competitive students can make something that does not matter at all, he said.

“People expect it to be less competitive than it is, and then you get there and everyone really wants to win,” math teacher Adam Resheff ’15 said. “I had the ball towards the end of [one] game and I felt arms just going for the ball and smacking me in the head, and I was like, ‘alright, I get it. They want to win.’”

Destiney Green (12) views Trashketball as a great way for students to bond, relax, and blow off steam after a long school day, she said. “I get to draft people and be a fake coach and play and not have any expectations,” Green said. “It’s the one time of the week where you can be trash at something and that’s the point.”

Green and Justin Burell (12) co-captain Manifest Destiney. Their team is very passionate about basketball, Green said. They don’t play varsity basketball, but they have now been given the chance to take their skills and focus them on Trashketball, she said. The team has even come up with basketball plays that they implement as part of their in-game strategy.

Federica Italiani (12) and Griffin Klein (12), co-captains of HM Sheffs United, chose to draft a lot of their friends, which has made the season enjoyable so far, Italiani said. Italiani was very excited for Trashketball because she loves activities where she can compete with her friends in a low pressure atmosphere, she said. “Trashketball takes the serious parts out of playing a real sport.”

Captains can also draft teachers to be on their teams. For example, Italiani and Klein drafted Head of Upper Division Jessica Levenstein and Resheff, while Brooks and Chowdhry drafted science teacher Matthew Boller.

This year is Boller’s second Trashketball season after having been on the faculty team in 2018. He enjoys interacting with students outside of the classroom environment, Boller said. “I came from teaching at boarding school, so I miss seeing students outside of the classroom.”

Unlike in 2018, there is no faculty team in this year’s Trashketball league. “That was a level of greatness that can probably never be replicated,” Berenson said. “Plus they got old.”

English teacher Adam Casdin was drafted by the Untouchaballs this season. While he has been invited to play many times in the past, this year is only the second invitation he has accepted, he said. Casdin did not participate in the past to “preserve his own safety,” he said. “Teachers are asked to join as a kind of novelty act. We’re sort of like the dog in a play.”

While some teachers are only there to boost team morale, others get into the sport, Resheff said. “You need the morale, but some teachers can really play,” he said. “Even if they can’t, they just want to have fun.”

Trashketball reminds Casdin of the pickup games he would play in the park as a teenager, he said. Trashketball players never really know what is going to happen and it is a bit of a free for all, Casdin said. “You’re just in it to have fun and maybe get out a little aggression.”

Berenson is thrilled to see the excitement for Trashketball this year, he said. “There’s a lot of fan support. The heckling is phenomenal.”

Casdin has gained appreciation for Trashketball the longer he has been at the school, he said. “It’s an odd tradition, but it seems like a very Horace Mann kind of event.”