SCHENECTADY – Every time Naylon Carrington heard the word ‘No,’ he worked his way around it.
As of Wednesday, every time a kid hits the basketball courts in Central Park, they’ll see the name “Nay,” and work their way around him.
Carrington would’ve turned 20 years old on Wednesday, but he died in a car crash at the intersection of Union Street and Route 7 in Niskayuna in October of 2020, four months after he graduated from Schenectady High School.
An honor roll student who played two seasons for the Patriots despite early doubts that he would ever be good enough to make the varsity, Carrington was memorialized on his birthday with a proclamation from the city and a ceremony naming the four courts after him, the “NayWay Basketball Courts.”
The dedication, which includes two new spectator benches with “Nay’s Place” plaques on them, photos of Carrington from his playing days hung from the surrounding fence and a legacy inscription next to the court entrance, was the brainchild of Carrington’s mother, Sondra Banks.
Her goal was to make sure that young kids who played basketball in the park would have a permanent example to follow, an example Naylon wanted to provide, but never got the chance to its fullest.
“This is necessary,” Banks said. “And one of the reasons I did it was it was part of Naylon’s dream. Naylon’s dream was to do something here himself. He was invited to go to Guam, to the university and play basketball overseas, but his dream was to come back and do something here. Fixing it up, tournaments, whatever he had to do, and he could not finish it.
“So I picked up the torch for him.”
“She took a mother’s grief, and she gave it to God and He placed in her spirit a way to assuage her grief and to help heal a mother’s broken heart,” Schenectady City Council president Marion Porterfield said during some opening statements before mayor Gary McCarthy read the proclamation.
“She heeded that word that was given to her, and she began on her journey to make sure that Naylon’s passing was not in vain and that others would realize the gift he was to this world.”
The sign at the entrance to the court introduces Carrington as a “- loving son, grandson, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, and teammate.”
The paragraph underneath tells players as they head in that the courts are dedicated “In recognition of a dynamic athlete and outstanding student who excelled in the classroom. Naylon Carrington leaves a legacy of integrity, hard work, sacrifice and faith for other striving young people here in Schenectady and beyond. His diligence, dedication and perseverance can serve as a model to the youth of Schenectady as they play ball on the same courts that Naylon developed his game and his commitment to his community.”
Banks pointed at the line at the bottom to best describe Naylon’s story:
“Naylon was thankful for his opportunity. It wasn’t given. It was earned.”
“He had to work hard,” she said. “When he heard ‘No,’ he had to come out here and work harder. He had to come out here at the break of dawn, sometimes late at night when the lights were off.
“He came with friends, he came without friends. Sometimes it would be me and him, me training him and us out here by ourselves. I wouldn’t let him give up. There’s been some touchy moments, and I’d let him have his moment. I’d let him cry it out, or yell it out. And when he got finished, I told him we’re going right back in.”
“It’s hard to lose a child, especially how young he was,” Carrington’s father, Thomas, said during the formal statements. “He had such a bright future ahead of him. He was a special kid. He encouraged his peers to not accept ‘No’ and to always follow their dreams.”
“The way Nay went about his business, I feel, is how we would want any athlete to go about their business,” Schenectady High boys’ varsity coach John Miller said. “He was in school when he needed to be in school, he did not miss practices and he did not make excuses.”
For decades, the popular Central Park courts have served as proving grounds for legends like Barry Kramer and Pat Riley.
Riley’s name is on the home gym at the high school now, but Carrington’s will supply the message in the park, where he spent countless hours working on his game.
Not to be thwarted by having been cut from teams in his younger days, Carrington finally broke through as a junior as a 5-foot-11 guard who made the Patriots varsity on the strength of feisty defense and some scoring ability.
“That goes to show that anything you put your mind to, you really can do it,” said Anthony Harris, one of Carrington’s former high school teammates.
“I grew up with Naylon. He was like my brother. He was honestly a great guy, a great person to be around. He motivated everybody to do good. You’ve just got to love him.
“He was up here every day for hours, from morning to night. Just … didn’t stop.”
“All the time … all the time. He’s self-taught in basketball here,” Banks said.
“He was a typical kid. He was funny. He was the jokester. He loved video games, chilling with his boys and playing basketball. He also loved school. He knew the importance, that through all the adversities, one of the things he had to keep up was his grades. And when he had nothing else, he relied on his faith.”
The city proclamation calls Naylon Carrington “a role model laying the groundwork for others to follow in his footsteps through the importance of one’s accountability in the classroom and on the courts.”
That’s what Banks wanted to communicate when she approached the mayor a year ago with her plan to memorialize her son in a meaningful way.
“They need to know not to give up,” she said. “Just because you hear ‘No,’ it’s not over. Find a way. There’s always a way.
“And there’s no days off.”