Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Team Endless Sports

Many of you may be aware that after a two-and-a-half-year absence from coaching, I returned to the sidelines this spring, coaching ninth and tenth-grade boys for a non-profit organization called Team Endless Sports that is based in District Heights, Maryland (just southeast of DC on Pennsylvania Avenue). I had decided, way back in mid-February in the depths of winter,* that I wanted to coach again, and more specifically that I wanted to coach basketball, which I still believe I know the best of any sport. And (with absolutely no offense intended to the dozens and dozens of wonderful young women that I worked with at NCS and Holy Child) I wanted to return to coaching boys.

*Though it has just twenty-eight days, February really is the longest month, isn't it?

It is almost entirely by circumstance that I wound up with Team Endless in the first place. I ran some online searches for AAU programs in the DC area, tossing out as possibilities any that appeared to be primarily located outside of the Beltway.* I called a few of the numbers provided and left messages stating my interest and experience. It just so happened that Ebony McAfee, the business manager for Team Endless, was the first person who called back. She invited me to the tryouts in March, conducted by her husband Ken, who played basketball and football at Division III Waynesburg University and runs the athletic programs and training. They liked me enough to bring me on, and within short order I was the head coach of the JV team, comprising ten (eventually fifteen) mostly ninth-grade boys.

*Back when I coached club volleyball, I had to drive from downtown DC to Rockville, Maryland twice a week, not including tournaments, a round trip of fifty miles. I definitely wanted to avoid doing that if at all possible.

District Heights is a decidedly working-class town in Prince George's County, the wealthiest majority African-American county in the United States, but one that certainly has its share of crime and rough patches as well. Ken and Ebony started Team Endless a couple of years ago to provide activities for local kids who too often do not have enough to do, but the organization this spring and summer pulled in kids from all over the near parts of the county, both inside and outside the Beltway; the fifteen different boys who played for me attend nine different high schools. I definitely went through an adjustment period in coaching boys again for the first time in nine years, as I am sure they did also in adjusting to me. But it turned out to be a fantastic experience, and we certainly grew as a team throughout the course of a spring and a summer season, including a couple of larger tournaments that we played in, one in Annapolis and one in District Heights. I believe that every single player improved, and most of them should be in a position to at least compete for a spot on their high school varsity teams as sophomores (and a couple of juniors) at tryouts, which begin this week.

None of that, however, is the point. The point is that Ken and Ebony are working, with the help of myself and a number of parents and coaches, to build a model organization for the youth of Prince George's County. We persevered through losing our gym space less than two months into the season, switching to a combination of an indoor facility and an outdoor elementary school court with short rims (we got rained out a few times) because the new indoor facility was so expensive. We implemented a summer reading program for the first time for all of the boys on four teams between fourth and eleventh grade, utilizing my childhood collection of books. We persevered through some growing pains of being a new organization, and of a couple of our teams being very young and small for their level (our middle school team in particular had a couple of fifth graders on it, playing against kids who already need to shave). We persevered through the rainouts and the improbably poorly organized league that we played most of our games in, with those games routinely starting an hour and a half to two hours behind schedule in a sweltering gym that more closely resembled a sauna.*

*These interminable delays happened all the time even though games were played with a running clock until the last two minutes of the game. How does that happen?

Not only have Ken and Ebony put together a great basketball program that works to enrich these kids both on and off the court, they also run a cheer team and training for football, baseball, and (as of last month) tennis. 2016 will hopefully see the dawn of full-fledged baseball and soccer programs, in addition to growth in the basketball program. We want the basketball teams to be able to hold regular practices inside on full courts, and to be able to play games in leagues or tournaments that actually run like they are supposed to, and to be able to occasionally travel to provide our kids with the opportunity to play in bigger tournaments and get some exposure to the world outside of the neighborhoods and towns that they live in. Ken and Ebony want to build the best organization in the area, and I myself am proud to be a part of it.

All of these things take money. Some of you may have donated before, and if you have, then thank you very much. If you have not, please consider it. If you are reading this, you likely know me personally, which means that you know someone who is putting in the sweat equity to make this happen, who does it because he loves the work of teaching and mentoring young people through sports and academics, so much so that he has been doing it more or less his entire adult life. Even if you don't care about my efforts per se, consider donating for the kids and teens that we are reaching; for the boy who, along with his father, got rides from a friend and made every practice and game even though they lived ten miles away and didn't have a car; for the kids that Ken and Ebony pick up for every practice and game because their families are unable to provide transport; for the direct impact that you can have on underprivileged youth that (if you live in greater DC) are part of your larger community; or simply because it is a good thing to do, and because your donations will be fully deductible. Even if circumstances render you unable to donate anything yourself, please at least reach out to anyone else you know who might, whether or not they know me from Adam or live in DC or whatever. Thank you, and God bless.