The Roberto Clemente High School girl's basketball team Credit: Provided

WICKER PARK — The Roberto Clemente Community Academy girls basketball team will get to play at the United Center next week and is hoping for an extra boost of support in the meantime.

The team will play Von Steuben High School at 2 p.m. Feb. 1 at the United Center before the Bulls face the Orlando Magic that evening. To attend, people can purchase discounted tickets for both games through this link. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Clemente.

Bringing high school teams to play at the United Center has been a longtime project of the team’s coach Mark Crawley. He first started doing so when he coached the Clemente boys varsity team, before leaving the school for a few years in 2012.

“Each time that we did it, it was amazing. The kids had incredible memories and if they never put on a jersey again, they would have a memory of being able to play where the Bulls play, where Michael Jordan played,” said Crawley, who is a post-secondary counselor at Clemente, where he also coaches the girl’s softball team.

When he returned to Clemente in 2019 and started coaching the school’s only girls basketball team, Crawley said it was a priority of his to have them play at the United Center too, which they did that season.

“The girls a lot of times play second fiddle to the boys in sports. And I wanted the girls to be able to experience the same thing,” he said.

Crawley said next week’s game is a chance to make up for two years of hardships his players have experienced during the pandemic.

But as recently as last week, the United Center game wasn’t officially confirmed. In order for it to go forward, the Bulls were requiring Clemente to sell 500 tickets, Crawley said.

By Nov. 16, the team had only sold around 80 tickets. That’s when Crawley called Robert Magiet, owner of Takorea Cocina in Ukrainian Village, to see if he could help out.

Magiet then purchased 100 tickets to the game through his nonprofit West Town Feeds, which he said he’s giving out to neighborhood families. Anyone interested in contributing or attending as part of his group can email for more information.

While Clemente’s team still hasn’t sold 500 tickets, Crawley said the number is now around 350, and the Bulls have officially given the game the green light.

“Because of Roberts efforts, [the Bulls] confirmed that we could play the game, and it gave us a second wind, a second opportunity,” he said.

Crawley said every year he’s brought high school players to the United Center, they’re always in awe of the size and grandeur of the court and stadium — and it can take them a little while to acclimate during the game.

“Usually it takes them about a quarter to get used to the distance and the depth perception, because in that open arena, it’s different to shoot. So it takes them a little while to get used to it,” he said.

But Crawley said once they do, his players just “start playing.”

“Almost every athlete aspires at some point to try and play at the highest level, and 90 percent, 95 percent of them don’t get a chance to realize that,” he said. “But if you have the opportunity to play in a stadium or an arena where the highest level is played, you can live that moment out during that day.”

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