For Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School varsity boys’ basketball coach Chris “Shempy” Champeau, basketball is more than just a game: It’s a way to bring communities together and celebrate through competition.
Basketball culture is what Champeau loves about the game, and when he took over as the head coach at Rumson-Fair Haven eight years ago, he wanted to create a culture in which children and young adults could have fun and grow in the game that he loves.
Champeau created Thursday Night Lights, an outdoor basketball league that runs from July 4 through Aug. 18. The league consists of six teams, all from neighboring towns, that compete against each other at Victory Park in Rumson every Thursday. This year is the league’s seventh.
“I was looking to build a local basketball culture year-round when I first got the Rumson-Fair Haven varsity job and simultaneously involve the Rumson-Fair Haven community,” Champeau said. “I saw Victory Park and felt it was the most scenic court in America, so I said, ‘Let’s put something together right there.’ I also wanted young players to aspire to play there and be a part of the Rumson-Fair Haven basketball family. We wanted potential players to stay home and play at Rumson-Fair Haven and not leave to play for private schools. We also got a DJ, dance teams and local talent to perform, so it became an event and also created business and camaraderie for local merchants.”
This year, Champeau decided to expand who could compete.
“We transitioned this year into younger players,” he said. “We are now a local high school varsity and college alum league. Folks can follow their hometown heroes — current and recent past. We have six teams: Red Bank Regional, Red Bank Catholic, Middletown North, Middletown South, Holmdel and Rumson-Fair Haven.”
Some of Champeau’s players, who play on the Rumson Bulldogs in the league, love the new setup. Rumson-Fair Haven alum Morgan Maguire now plays baseball at Old Dominion University in Virginia, but he loves the opportunity to come back and play in the league.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Maguire said. “I get to play with guys who are older than me and guys who are younger than me. I’m enjoying the fact that I get to play against the guys that I played against in high school again. Just playing organized basketball again is fun. I don’t get to play much in college, so this is a great thing to do.”
One of Champeau’s current players, incoming sophomore shooting guard Phillip Wheeler, is also on the team and loves the different setting of playing on the blacktop.
“This is different for me,” Wheeler said. “I feel more comfortable in a gym, especially since these rims here are double-rimmed. But this is a lot of fun. I’m developing a much better relationship with the alumni, as well as my current teammates, which is good. I’m just trying to get better so I can help my team win games once the real season starts.”
Champeau encourages all family and friends to attend Thursday Night Lights. The games are every Thursday starting at 7 p.m.
“We want to provide a great family night for the whole community,” he said. “It’s a great place to create old school summer memories for every age group. Great setting, great hoops and just a spot for laughs and good, clean fun. Hometown America stuff. I love it.”