The Boys and Girls Club in Hoboken has serious issues, said longtime counselor and basketball coach Mike Mincey. He said there’s not enough building security, there are mouse droppings on the first floor and the Kool-Aid the kids drink is prepared in a storage closet that reeks of cleaning products.
“It just breaks my heart because we could be so much better,” said Mincey, 45, who was suspended from his job for a week earlier this winter.
Mincey, a lifelong Jersey City resident, has worked at the Boys and Girls Club on Jefferson Street for 12 years. He was suspended from his job with pay for a week in early January, after a parent filed several complaints against him, he said.
After rules for the recreational basketball draft were changed, the parent’s teenaged son was not selected to be on Mincey’s team and was chosen for another team. When the boy came to pick his sister up at the club, Mincey asked him to wait in the game room, since Mincey’s team was practicing tactics the players would use against the boy’s team. “We laughed about it, me and him,” said Mincey. But the parent was not happy. She confronted Mincey in the club’s gym, multiple sources said, and the next day, filed the complaints, Mincey said.
“He’s good with the kids,” said Connie Viruet, a parent with two kids at the club. “He knows how to control them. He knows how to discipline them and punish them the right way and make sure they do well. They need that.”
Basketball practice was cancelled for the week Mincey was suspended. But he was welcomed back after an investigation into the incident by Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County Gary Greenberg. Greenberg said he never lost his confidence in the coach and Mincey didn’t lose much that week. “The very next game, he was back,” said Greenberg. “So, they never really missed a beat in terms of games.”
Now that he’s back, Mincey—who coaches four basketball teams at the Boys and Girls club—said his suspension is not his reason for speaking out about problems he sees at the Boys and Girls Club.
In addition to his concerns about security and unsanitary conditions, Mincey said homework is no longer a focus at the club. “As an afterschool program, we should be dedicated to helping these kids with their education,” said Mincey. “That should be mandatory, but it’s not.”
After HoLa, a dual language charter school for kindergarten through third grade, started subleasing the second floor of the club almost two years ago, Mincey said the club kids lost the rooms where they used to do their homework. He said now they have to manage to concentrate in rooms where there are noisy activities happening at the same time.
“Kids do homework in the gym, in the game room, where there’s video games going on, music,” Mincey said. “There’s no isolated spot for them to do their homework.” The classrooms are still there, he added, but the desks are too small for many of the club kids.
Greenberg countered that homework is still very important at the club, and that some clubs in Hudson County have a program called Power Hour, when all other activities shut down so the kids can do homework.
HoLa programs and activities have also taken gym time away from the club kids, said Mincey. “If they want to do PTA, if they want to do movie night, if they want to do anything, they can do it during our time,” he said. “Our time is from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. No one should be able to interrupt our time.” He added that when HoLa kids come into the gym during club hours, club kids have to move to one half of the court. Mincey said he has offered to include HoLa students in his basketball practices, but HoLa has refused.
“They don’t want to be with us,” said Mincey. “It’s like a separation of classes, I see. They don’t want their kids with our kids.”
President of HoLa’s Board of Trustees Jennifer Hindman Sargent said that’s not true and that one of HoLa’s employees even organized an afterschool theater program that included a few of the club kids. “We try to find ways to mix the groups in the afternoon," she said, "when it is feasible in terms of age groups and logistics.”
But, Hindman Sargent added, it’s more difficult than one might think. “There’s no time for casual mingling,” she said. “It has to be planned.”
Hindman Sargent said that HoLa kids are in the gym at the same time as club kids once a week during a physical education enrichment program the school organizes. The overlap is 30 minutes. She also said that the school created its own basketball team after city’s department of recreation asked it to because so many HoLa kids signed up. “So, we scrambled, and one of our parents is coaching,” said Hindman Sargent, but the team does not normally practice in the club gym.
She also said that she is not concerned about HoLa’s security. “When we are there and we have students there, our security is fine,” she said. She added that reception has a camera and everyone must be buzzed in during school hours. After school and on the weekends, she said, she understands that the Boys and Girls Club has someone monitoring the building. Mincey said he’s usually the one to stop anybody who comes inside.
Sargent said she’d heard about the mouse droppings. “Over Christmas break, I think the regularly scheduled cleaning didn’t happen,” she said, “and a lot of garbage was left in the building.” She said the mice must have found a way in, but the problem has been solved. She also said that an exterminator visits the building on a regular basis.
Mincey said he’d also like to see the club kids get healthier snacks. “We give out Kool-Aid and Rice Krispies Treats,” said Mincey. “It’s sugar on top of sugar. I would rather just go get a jar of peanut butter and jelly or lunch meat or wheat bread or even buttered rolls and juice.”
Greenberg said the club tries to give out healthy treats. “I know that we do the best we can in giving them nutritious snacks,” he said. And as far as allegations that the Kool-Aid is being prepared in a closet where cleaning supplies are stored, Greenberg said he has no idea why that would be happening. “I know there is a beautiful kitchen,” he said.
Both Greenberg and Sargent said they thought the relationship between the school and the club was going well. Having the school on the top floor, said Greenberg, has created a great resource and an opportunity to serve more people in the community.
Groups of parents and local charities have recently worked together to raise money for improvements to the building. The bathrooms on the first floor were renovated during winter break, and plans are underway for a teen center on the first floor. The building also got a new roof about two months ago, Greenberg said.
Greenberg said he’s not sure why Mincey has come forward with complaints about the club and that Mincey had not mentioned them before. Greenberg said the club tries to help as many kids as it can and that he and Mincey both see the children as the first priority.
However, Mincey said he believes the children at the Boys and Girls Club are not getting what they deserve, and for that, he will fight. “I will argue,” said Mincey. “I will get upset over my kids being slighted.”