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April 22, 2016

Still Packaging The American Dream

Still Packaging The American Dream

FIRE UP FRIDAY – We had an open-door policy for several high school boys this year, and it’s fair to say we’ve left the door open too long. What I mean by that is the more you give someone, the more they often don’t get it. And then you hope that you find one who does, even if it is just one diamond.

We ended up opening the door to several Senegalese kids, an entire clan of them. What was the most staggering part for me was not how little support they had, and how some of them continued to show up (although erratically and constantly late). It was when I finally put my foot down and made the serious ones fill out an application if they wanted to be part of spring ball. Give a boy named K credit. Granted, he’s 18 years old and in the 10th grade, and not very skilled on the court, but he’s a nice kid and he seems to love to be around our kids. He submitted his report card, which revealed mostly poor to failing grades. I was not surprised by this given what he’s up against on several fronts. I didn’t even blame him entirely. He filled out the application – about half of it. When it asked what do you want to be when you grow up or something along those lines – what are your interests?

“I want to be a NBA player.”

He mentioned it several times.

I wrote him back and said, “Not to burst your bubble, but the kids who are playing college ball are being hunted down now by recruits”. I told him to basically try again. Give me something else in your life you want to be.

He erased the NBA part. He then filled in everywhere that his goal was to be “a professional basketball player.”

I almost fell off my stool at my desk.

Then I remembered back to the time when my brother was 20 years old and calling me from his college dorm room. I was playing overseas ball still, or maybe chasing down the end of my dream to play in the US (which was no easy path with all the start-ups that were unreliable), on top of the fact that my arches were ripping from the bottom of my feet. My brother Ryan, who was playing DII ball at Eckerd College in Florida, said to me, “Basketball is going to make me a lot more money than it did for you.”

Granted, a struggling professional female basketball player is not something to go bragging to your accountant about. There were several years where my accountant actually told me I was out of my mind between the basketball pursuits, my appetite for being an entrepreneur, and my freelancing as a writer while print journalism was dying a quick, painful death. But to listen to my brother say he was going to be benefiting from the game far more than me from his spot on the bench at Eckerd College?

It was an insult to me, given how much leverage you can get with a fully-paid college scholarship (Ryan had a partial or less). But far worse was his belief that he was going to make it at the next level.

When I read what K wrote after the revision, I was so mad at our culture. Granted his parents played a role in all of this, of course, and the school system is awful. Plus I know how great it is to be a youth and think you can do anything even with so little real information. I wrote him back by text and said he’s over the age limit (true) with us at 18 years old, but I’d be happy to help him get a job if he brought he some applications or links to applications. But there will be no more discussion of his basketball pipedream.

(I just want to pause here and place a $5 bet with myself that he will show up tomorrow at practice with his sad eyes and just look at me. Honestly, someone tell me what to say because I am all tapped out on answers.)

Here’s the good news. This week I met with another boy from our group here, and I’m really hoping this is the one who recharges my batteries and hope that more kids have and are working toward academic goals and dreams. Granted he still needs to know what it means to show up on time, and do what you’re told, and send a thank you after someone spends time with you. Yet he did submit his report card, and he was late only because he was with his chemistry teacher (from his report card, it was clear that is where he needed to be.) His mom and dad both work, all of his siblings are in college or in the work force. He’s the most attentive one and he is accountable to enough of an extent. He’s 20 minutes late, so I’m now making this a walking meeting because I want him to know that I just gave up 20 minutes of office work I really needed to finish, and now I’m late for seeing my niece and nephew because I am trying to help him.

I lead with, “You are aware that you are not going to be playing in the NBA, correct?”



I find out that he’s been accepted to a program at Cornell this summer for inner-city kids. I also find out about his family – brothers are majoring in accounting – and I learn about this after-school program where he gets paid just to show up, and basically as he said, “get off the streets.” We both agree that if he can avoid being in a place with that low of a standard by getting into a place with a much higher bar, it would be most beneficial. I learn that he skipped a grade so he’s a 15-year-old who is at the end of his junior year. The next few months are crunch time. I want to help this kid, and I’m all over him about how to follow-up, how to not only fill out an application, but to submit it. I am on him, his friends and anyone who can stand anywhere near my path when it comes to this issue.

Granted, I’m going into a full weekend of hoops for maybe a total of 18-20 hours as I hop from gym to gym. There is so much more to life than basketball. If played well on and off the court, no matter if you’re a high school player and no more – it’s just a means to what should and can be a regular dose of promising new opportunities.