WINDHAM–Matt Desmond and Matt Dyer are on a mission.

The two friends and soon-to-be seniors at Windham High School are trying to raise money to revitalize the basketball courts behind Manchester Elementary School in North Windham.

Desmond and Dyer have already received plan approval from the Windham Town Council and Windham-Raymond School Committee. Now, all they need is money from willing donors.

But that shouldn’t be a big obstacle. Desmond and Dyer are manager and assistant manager of their Business Simulation Class at the high school, taught by Diane Leavitt. They have experience raising money, and feel they have the know-how and contacts to make it happen.

“They are a strong team who have helped me out over the past three years on many of our events for Camp Sunshine and Windham Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” Leavitt said. “I know that if I give them a job, the job will be completed and completed well. They’re great kids with a lot of chutzpah.”

Proving her point, the industrious duo has already secured in-kind services from several businessmen in town who have agreed to resurface the court, erect lighting and install the hoops.

Their drive to revitalize the courts came from a lack of public court options in Windham.

“We drove by some courts in Gorham and that sparked us because we were looking to get something here in Windham,” Desmond said. “We are just looking for something that’s quality for outdoor playing.”

Currently, they say basketball options are limited in Windham. The two friends usually play at the high school during free time in their school schedules, and they’ll play during appointed times at the gym in town hall. They’ll even fork over $10 to use a court at a local fitness facility for a few hours.

But what they really want is a place that is easily accessible.

“We’re looking for something that’s open all the time that’s free for kids to give them something to do,” Desmond said.

And the best place, they say, is behind Manchester, which is near where many kids live. But currently, the court surface behind the school is pockmarked and cracked, and the four hoops have rusted rims and backboards mangled from vandalism. The idea is to resurface the courts and replace the dilapidated basketball goals with better quality and more rugged equipment.

Dyer and Desmond would also like to install lights, and on the advice of Parks and Recreation Director Brian Ross, they are also hoping to cut down some trees that obstruct the view of the court from the Manchester school parking lot. Removing the trees would deter vandals, they say, and allow police patrols to view the courts while driving through the Manchester School parking lot.

“It’s a good project,” Ross said. “Hopefully they can pull it off.”

Ross said his department has tried to “fix up” the basketball courts and ice rink recreational area behind Manchester school twice in the past, but money was lacking. Desmond and Dyer’s enthusiasm to raise money, however, could bring about the upgrade to the Manchester courts that Ross has been seeking.

But it’s going to take money, about $15,000 worth, maybe more. Most of that would be used for paving, Ross said.

“The key is the paving, and we’re not really sure how much that’ll be. They’re either looking at sealing the cracks or doing a coat of pavement,” Ross said.

And it won’t be just Desmond and Dyer using the basketball courts. The two circulated a petition at school a few months ago and received hundreds of signatures expressing interest.

“We went around with a petition for a week and we had 300-plus signatures, mostly in the first two days, mostly students and some adults,” Desmond said.

“I know a lot of guys and girls on basketball teams who live in North Windham who would like to play out here,” said Dyer, who added that the hundred or so people who play pick-up games on Sunday mornings at the town hall gym would probably enjoy playing on the new courts as well.

It isn’t every day that a 16-year-old sits in front of the local town council trying to convey an idea to improve life in the town.

But that’s what Dyer did in May when he first sought a go-ahead from the council. Desmond, who couldn’t attend the first meeting, then joined his friend for a second meeting later in May. Last week, the two appeared before the school board, which also gave its stamp of approval.

Councilors were supportive of the idea, with Carol Waig saying she was “100 percent behind it” and Scott Hayman saying the boys’ effort was “pretty admirable.” School board member Mike Duffy was also supportive of the courts, saying there were no objections last Wednesday as the school board approved the boys’ plan.

“First I was a little nervous to talk to all these important people in the town,” Dyer said. “But after doing it, it’s really not that bad, because they’re really flexible, they just want to hear what we have to say, and they let us take control, they don’t butt in and change the idea all around.”

“And they don’t throw our idea down,” Desmond added. “They’re more enthusiastic than I really thought they’d be. They were all for it.”

Windham High School seniors Matt Dyer, left, and Matt Desmond have a dream of resurfacing and installing new hoops and backboards at the dilapidated basketball courts behind Manchester Elementary School. The two friends have received project approval from the Windham Town Council and the Windham-Raymond school board, and now are raising money. Staff photo by John Balentine

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