Testimonial: A Distraction from Bad Influences

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Looking back, I had a great childhood.  All I really remember is leaving in the morning to play with my friends and coming home when the street lights came on with dirt rings around my neck. That’s what I love about sport. I didn’t want toys. I didn’t want clothes I just wanted to play ball. It didn’t matter the sport. The top three in my life were football, basketball and baseball, honestly though, I would play anything. 

But, the truth is that dysfunction surrounded me. I grew up in a rough part of Portsmouth, Virginia in the 80’s. My parents were never married, and my dad left my mother when I was five. I still remember that day as clear as anything in my mind. At that time, I was surrounded by violence, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, poverty, and all the fear and stress that comes with those things. The environment was crazy for anyone, especially a kid. 

Looking back, it seems like I was afraid of everything: the dogs across the street, the dark, people breaking into our house and garage, swimming, social interaction, bullies at school…the list was long. But for some reason, I wasn’t scared to play sports. In fact, over the summer, I spent nearly every day at the basketball court watching the older kids play, hoping they would let me get in on a game. I was ten years old the first time they ran out of players to run full court and were forced to ask me if I wanted to play. Fast forward 30 years, and I still remember that game and the dramatic impact on my life.

Sports helped me escape. No matter how tough things got at home, that basketball court was always just one block away. It was always open for business. Sometimes you would wait for hours to play, and sometimes you’d play by yourself, but the court was always open.

First you learn to survive. It was not a warm and fuzzy safe place. There were guns and drugs. There were cops and criminals. All of life in the Twin Lakes housing project spilled over to that court, but at the end of the day everyone would get upset when if it interfered with the game. You learned who to play with and who to avoid…to be aware of your environment. Police weren’t happy to be there, and they weren’t there to help. They saw us all as a threat, and they had all of the power. Lay down. Shut up. Know your role.

Once you were respected, you became part of the community. As a 10 year old, I was one of the only kids allowed to play with the adults. They taught me the ropes. They didn’t take it easy on me. It was their job to make me better, to make me tough. The same kids that used to wait for me at the end of my street before school, became the kids recruiting me to play on their teams in Little League. It’s one of the amazing things about sports. On the court, not much else matters…you can either play or you can’t. And that statement has reigned true throughout my life.

I worked for the YMCA right out of college. In my time there, I played with a group every Monday and Wednesday morning before work. It was a mixed group made up of old guys, young guys, and a couple of women. One day, I left a little early because I had to go to court to fight a speeding ticket. One of the older guys was leaving too as he normally did each week. He asked me why I was leaving early. I told him that I never speed, but that the other day I had been behind this guy that was going really slow and was swerving a bit. On the incline of this bridge, I hit the gas to get around this guy and create some separation between us. While doing that, I did break the speed limit for like 30 seconds, but just to get past him. The police officer just happened to be sitting in the perfect spot to catch me when I hit the gas. The old man laughed and said, “good luck with that.” So, I get to court, and I am first on the list to be heard. Who walks into the courtroom to hear my case? The judge from the Y. How crazy is that? He tells the officer what I told him, asks if that was possibly true? The officer says “yes,” and I get out of my ticket. The point is, in life, we are all the same on the court. Out there we are still just shorts, shirts and sneakers. I didn’t know he was a judge; I knew him as the old guy that shoots pretty well and plays tough defense.

When it all comes down to it, sports and rec have taught me many life lessons. It started with “If you don’t go to school you can’t play.” Then, “If you don’t get good grades, you can’t be on the team.” “If you want to be good you have to put in the work.”  I learned quickly that all of the corners I cut in practice would show up in the game. There are hundreds of kids out there that think they are good. What makes me different? I didn’t realize these lessons were being learned until much later in life.

I was too busy to hang with the wrong people. I learned how small goals made big things possible. I learned calls don’t always go your way, that I would get my opportunity. I learned it was my job to be ready and take advantage of the moment.

Sports protected me from my environment. Sports distracted me from bad influences. It toughened me up.  It taught me how to work with others. It brought me great memories and lasting friendships. And that’s why I’m so excited to be able to bring an organization like PlayOn to the communities that we serve. Because everyone deserves to have those positive distractions, from life, from your environment, from whatever obstacles are in your way. We believe that you are the best you when you’re active. And we want to offer the benefits and values that we’ve all enjoyed as a team to everyone that we can reach.