Hosea Lee, the second-year coach of the Young Men’s Leadership Academy basketball team, says everything happens for a reason.
Like there’s a reason he didn’t hightail it back to the Laneville Yellowjackets, his Class A state tournament team two years ago, when he was shown YMLA’s lone shoebox gymnasium that six teams from seventh grade to varsity share.
Lee’s YMLA Wildcats won three of 26 games in their varsity debut season, topping the small school’s football team by two. Lee’s squad was mostly football players who know a bit about making do with less, not to mention the University Interscholastic League rule requiring what should be a Class 3A outfit to compete in Class 5A.
But this isn’t a sob story about the all-boys magnet school in Stop Six.
Never miss a local story.
This about friends helping friends.
The Rev. Marilyn Jones of Meadowbrook United Methodist Church had read about the school’s cramped court, with quarters so tight that the gym walls might as well be out-of-bounds lines.
Jones’ church has a big gym, and she had big idea: Use ours.
“We took advantage of her facility and are just so grateful,” Lee said.
There was a catch: “The church sponsors an Upward basketball league,” Jones said. “For us, coaches and referees are always hard to come by. I approached [Lee] that if the boys wanted to coach and referee, I have plenty of spots they can fill.”
‘It takes patience’
YMLA’s nine varsity players took on first-time coaching duties, mostly of kindergarten and first-grade teams. The Wildcats practiced at the gym twice a week, with Thursdays requiring double-duty, first as players for a 90-minute practice, then as coaches for a 60-minute session with the tykes. An eight-game schedule played Saturdays concluded last week.
“So we were teaching a boy named Simon to shoot and he just wanted to just throw the ball at the rim,” junior Tyjuan Battles said. “But we’d teach him to squat and push it up, and once he got it, it was just like, wow, I can teach this kid to do this, wonder what I could teach all the rest of these kids.”
Junior Isaac Tate IV plans to follow in his father’s footsteps. Isaac Tate III is a history teacher and basketball coach at YMLA.
“I saw it takes patience with the kids. That’s something you learn in the classroom, too ” Tate said. “Really, coaching helps build upon what you already know about basketball. It teaches you a different side of basketball besides being a spectator or playing.”
While the Wildcats’ record isn’t the best indicator, practicing on a regulation-size court for the first time since most of them came to YMLA in middle school was a game-changer, they said. The academy is housed in the old Dunbar 6th Grade Center.
“It was a big step because going from seventh grade to 11th grade, that’s the gym you had to play in,” Tate said. “When you go to gyms like Dunbar, Wilkerson-Greines, that transition from the ‘box,’ now you’re going to have to run the full length of the court. We’ve never experienced this kind of conditioning before.”
‘Really good role models’
Roxanne Watts of Fort Worth had three children play in the Upward league. Saranya, 9, Jania, 8, and William, 5, were all coached by YMLA students, a departure from the usual parent as coach.
“It was as good or better than I could have imagined it,” Watts said. “They taught the kids in a way to make it fun and to keep them engaged. They served as really good role models, little heroes in a sense.”
Watts and others took their kids to watch YMLA play its final game of the season. The Wildcats lost in a blowout, but the score hardly mattered.
“It was good to see my kids seeing their coaches play basketball,” Watts said. “They showed great sportsmanship and it was a really positive experience.”
At last Saturday’s final games, the parents gave the YMLA players a standing ovation.
“They had a huge impact,” Jones said. “I heard that over and over from our parents.”
The plan is to do it again next year.
“It gives them a sense of ownership, a sense of self-worth, self-confidence,” Lee said of his YMLA players. “And they understand they’re instilling confidence in those young kids also.”
Jeff Caplan: 817-390-7705, @Jeff_Caplan