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South Salt Lake Journal

Open play basketball helps keep community together

Feb 17, 2020 02:34PM ● By Nichole Duffy

SSL community members come together for open play basketball every Tuesday and Thursday from 7-9 p.m. (Nichole Duffy/City Journals)

By Nichole Duffy | [email protected]

As people gather into the gym at the Columbus Center, it is all greetings and jokes. It’s not long until someone grabs a basketball and starts warming up.

As participants start running and shooting hoops, Mark Montoya gets them organized and ready to play. 

Montoya, who is fondly known around the gym as “Marky,” has helped keep the adult open play basketball going for over 10 years. 

Montoya explained that there used to be no fee for the open gym adult basketball. “But they were having a hard time finding someone to run the thing, so that’s when I got on the payroll,” he said. “I told them I’d do it for free, but it makes sense, they gotta pay to keep the lights on.”

The fee for the two hours of basketball is a mere $1 now, which is an inexpensive way to get out of the house and exercise.

One community member that takes advantage of this program is Andy Iujan. “I come once or twice a week with family,” he said. The family that night consisted of his son, two cousins and a nephew. “It’s good to get out and play while I still can.” 

“Marky got all of us in the neighborhood out here playing,” Iujan said. “We all played softball together, Marky has been here coaching for years, since I was a kid.” 

Montoya lives in the South Salt Lake neighborhood and has been a staple in the community, which is apparent when talking with him — he knows everyone by name, and for those he doesn’t, he makes sure to talk to. 

As one participant runs over and slaps him on the shoulder, he says, “Sorry I blew that for us guys, this is the first time I’ve played in 15 years.” 

Montoya laughs and tells Will Richardson, “It’s all in fun, no worries man, we’re all here to have a good time.”

Iujan agreed. “This is friendly. That’s why I like to play, everyone has fun and if you get a shot take it, no one is mad about it.”

The play runs pickup style, picking teams of four or five players and running a full court game to 11. 

Don’t know anyone? That’s OK, they keep it fair by adding in all new players, making sure no one has to sit out more than one game at a time. 

“I can never say too much good things about the people that run this parks and rec department, they do so much to keep this place going and we are all just so grateful for that,” Montoya said. 

Montoya is passionate about his community center and talked about the award the Columbus Center received for their adult programs, which influences the grants received to help keep these programs running at a low cost. 

As highly as Montoya speaks about the rec center, it appears community members see the same in Montoya. 

“Marky brings us all together, I hope I can be here at his age doing the same thing,” Iujan said.