When former Harlem Globetrotter and NBA draft pick Wally Choice
was growing up on Mission Street, he
lacked any means to leave the neighborhood, and Glenfield Park "was all we had at that time," Choice
Years later, after retiring from a career in basketball, Choice
returned to the place of his
roots, and dedicated more than 40 years to the county park that had played such a major role in his
wife Celine's only son, also named Wally
, was about five years old, "I wanted to make sure he
had a place to go," the elder Choice said.
"It became evident there was a need," and, along with a group of residents, Choice established Montclair Grass Roots in 1968, aiming to make Glenfield Park the community gathering place it had been during his youth.
has been a positive role model for generations of young people ... laying a strong foundation that has helped alumni of the Grass Roots program to find success throughout their lives," DiVincenzo stated.
Born on Willowdale Avenue and raised on Mission Street, Choice
, now in his
mid-70s, played for the Mountie basketball team and earned a scholarship to play hoops at Indiana University
in Bloomington, where he
future wife, to whom he
has been married for 51 years.
freshman year, the 6-foot-5-inch Choice
became the second African-American student athlete to play on the team, and that year the Indiana Hoosiers also became NCAA champions.
would become the team's first African-American captain.
After graduation, Choice
was drafted to play for the St. Louis Hawks at a time when the National Basketball Association
consisted of eight teams, and the league only extended as far west as St. Louis, Mo.
The Hawks "drafted 10 of us and none of us went to camp," Choice
"In those days, that was common."
One alternative was the Globetrotters, a team with which Choice
toured the world for about three years.
After that, he
entered the Eastern League
, consisting of about nine East Coast teams, and played for five years for the Trenton Colonials and the Madisons, of Easton, Pa., he
Later, Choice would again be a draft pick - for the U.S. Army, serving at Fort Dix for 18 months while he and his family resided in Corona, N.Y.
In 1962, the Choice family moved back to Montclair, where Wally Choice
bought an ice cream, soda shop and drug store he
frequented as a boy, the Elm Pharmacy on Bloomfield Avenue, renamed it the Choice Pharmacy and ran it for 10 years.
later operated the Lackawanna Shoe and Parcel Service, inside the Lackawanna Plaza mall, for 20 years.