For kids growing up in Baltimore in the 1980s and ‘90s, there was no athlete more beloved than Cal Ripken Jr. But as much as we loved Cal, my friends and I (at least subconsciously) spent most of our days trying to emulate Ray Kinsella, the fictional character from “Field of Dreams.”
Kinsella, whose mental fitness was often rightfully called into question, decided to plow over his cornfield to create a baseball field after hearing voices that told him, “If you build it, they will come.”
Like Ray, we were of questionable soundness of mind — following the voices in our heads in pursuit of the next great half-baked idea. On a lazy summer day back in 1995, that idea finally came.
Tour de Court, or TDC, as we called it, was a simple concept: A basketball tournament played on neighborhood courts with an added requirement of cycling as the mode of transportation to those courts. For no real purpose at all, this became an annual summer rite of passage. College, grad school, occupations, relocations, marriages, children — these were all merely minor obstacles.
Every summer, we convened in the heart of Pikesville in search of that elusive gold helmet (a spray-painted bike helmet with the names of the winners inscribed). Over the years, the basketball event devolved into some very poor man’s form of mixed martial arts, but the schtick and camaraderie endured . “The big thing about it is that it’s a lot of fun,” my brother and organizer, Sam Minkove, recently reminded me. “It’s just getting everybody back together again.”
Ironically, our sister, Rachel, who grew up mocking this annual folly, would ultimately give it purpose and meaning.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As Rachel heroically battled her illness, TDC morphed into a blood cancer fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in her honor.
Tragically, Rachel passed away in 2012 at age 28. But her fighting spirit lives on each summer at this event.
Rachel wasn’t only a beloved family member. She had a passion for bringing people together and building relationships. Even at her sickest, she strove to bring out the best in others. She enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Social Work for the ultimate purpose of working with young adults fighting their own illnesses, and completed nearly half of her coursework before she died.
TDC has, therefore, become the perfect medium to honor Rachel and perpetuate her legacy of bringing people together and living a purposeful life. In the weeks leading up to TDC, participants blast their fundraising pages on social media, hold what have come to be known as “Pour de Court” happy hours, and record trash-talking podcast previews.
One TDC veteran, David Steinberg, has even undertaken to writing a TDC-themed limerick for every letter of the alphabet for every business day of the fundraising campaign this year.
The event itself — particularly the opening ceremonies featuring DJ Balagan, local politicians and sports personalities — has become a beloved annual block party. Kenny Friedman, who didn’t play in his first TDC until age 39, reflects on the experience, “I was late to the party, but I immediately knew it was the tournament for me due to the poorly aging Millennials with rapidly fading skills, trash talking and an inner core of doing chesed [acts of kindness].”
The 24th annual TDC will be held on June 17, with 64 players — 48 men, 16 women — participating with a goal of raising another $40,000 to LLS. To date, we have raised more than $195,000, funds that will support a research portfolio in Rachel’s name.
“Rachel was able to see some of this and where some of the money we have raised has gone,” says Sam. “I don’t know if she would have expected it to become this incredible, but she loved every part of this.This is a celebration of her life, not a mourning.”
Besides the major LLS fundraising, a large portion of the registration proceeds are donated to the Jewish Caring Network, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides support to families facing life-threatening, lifelong, or serious illnesses.
While the communal response has been inspiring, I sometimes marvel that we were able to keep this annual rite of summer going for over a decade for absolutely no purpose at all. As kids, we made sure to respond to those “If you build it, they will come” voices. We may have succeeded at building a childish event, but “they” came because of Rachel — to rally behind someone who exemplified courage, passion and selflessness in the face of unimaginable adversity.
For more information and to make a donation, go here.