Saving Big Trees for Little Kids

Santa Cruz Warriors team with Sempervirens Fund to highlight #TeamRedwoods campaign.

by Christian Jungert
TUES, FEB. 10—Basking in bright lights and bearing ear-to-ear grins, three young superstars stand confidently at half-court of the Kaiser Permanente Arena. Not intimidated by the roar of the cheering crowd, they each line up for their moment in the spotlight.

The vocal charisma of MC Theo Mitchell pours out through the loudspeaker. “Check out the handles,” Mitchell says of Anthony Carreno’s crossover dribble. “A 360-dunk,” Mitchell roars as Mia Rodriquez slams the ball. “She crushes it,” Mitchell bellows as Leiva Santiago reaches far above her head for the winning slam-dunk.

Draped in Star Wars-motif "May the Forest be with You T-shirts, and proudly holding pennants over their heads, the three athletes are making the most of their moment. Close your eyes, listen to the crowd and they might as well be starring in the NBA All-Star game.

Open your eyes and they are still rim-breakers, but the rim is four-feet high. Carreno, age 8, Rodriquez, age 10, and Santiago, age 5, are stars of the Kids’ Slam-Dunk Contest during a Santa Cruz Warriors time-out.

The slam-dunk contest, a staple of in-game entertainment for the NBA D-League Warriors, is currently being sponsored by the Sempervirens Fund. Headquartered in Los Altos, the non-profit nevertheless has very local roots. Its history dates back to 1900, when the then-Sempervirens Club established Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the first state park in California. Sempervirens Fund’s entire mission is protecting the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and they have protected 34,000 acres—around 53 square miles. The Warriors sponsorship is part of a public outreach campaign to deepen awareness about the organization in Santa Cruz.

"Despite the fact that Sempervirens Fund has been working in the Santa Cruz Mountains for 116 years, not everybody knows it,” says communications director Mike Kahn. “We're pleased to work with the Santa Cruz Warriors to get our message out to the community while giving back in a fun way."

Kahn attended Tuesday night’s game along with Sempervirens Fund board president Fred Keeley, longtime Santa Cruz elected official (and Warriors superfan). The two proudly point to a huge poster that sits just inside the stadium entrance. Featuring a height chart and dotted with fun-facts, the poster asks: “How tall are you compared to a Redwood Tree?” It features a life-size silhouette representing the average NBA player, who stands 6’9”, and is an open invitation for visitors to see how they match up.

“Hopefully people will have fun with it and learn a little something,” Kahn says.

The plan laid out by the Sempervirens Fund looks to be a success. Seeds of interest are already beginning to sprout in the minds of the young slam-dunk superstars. Rodriquez, trading her on-court bravado for a shy smile, confesses her love of “the pretty trees.” Carreno uses only one word for his center stage experience—“fabulous.” He tells me his favorite part of the forest is seeing ducks.

Sempervirens Fund will be sponsoring the slam-dunk contest at home games for the next two months. The poster will remain at the stadium for six months.

Follow this link to get your very own "May the Forest be with You” T-shirt.