The East Bay Soldiers Basketball Team Goes to War With Life’s Obstacles
A new basketball league pairs practice with tutoring to ensure that its young players are successful on and off the court.
“We have already had so many blessings and the season is just beginning.” These are the words of Diana Evans Harris, a grateful mother and the director of the East Bay Soldiers youth basketball organization. Founded to provide community youth with a positive, productive and supportive athletic and academic experience, East Bay Soldiers is not your typical organization. It is using basketball as a means to communicate the importance of education and integrity. And it’s working.
Diana and a number of other parents formed East Bay Soldiers in El Sobrante, Calif. in 2007 with the goal of making the program all about the kids. With many of the boys coming from single-parent homes, they have adopted the approach that it takes a village to raise a child, bringing parents, coaches, teachers and tutors together as a united network for the players. Today there are over 30 players and they expect the league to grow to six teams and more than 50 members this season.
Put in a place a few months ago, the tutoring program is structured such that the high school kids work with the volunteer tutors in small groups while the younger team practices and then they switch from study hall to the court. Their practice location at Booker T. Anderson Community Center is just one of many good fortunes that the teams have received. When the gym attendants found out that the Soldiers were starting a tutoring program for kids, they gave them access to a study space and computer room at the Community Center. They have three tutors for math, science and English and the tutors are an integral part of the mission, actively following up with the parents when they are picking the kids up from practice or with phone calls and notes to teachers.
“Our new families who are just joining the organization can’t believe the quality of the tutoring program and the dedication and commitment of the tutors. We are already hearing and seeing improvement with the kids’ grades. We have kids telling their parents that they have a better understanding in the subjects that they were struggling with just a month ago.” The Soldiers have seen an increase in the number of kids who are taking advantage of the tutoring program and a dramatic decrease in reluctance among the kids to attend tutoring. It has become a routine and the kids are buying into it.
They are not the only ones. Coach Kenny Carter, the coach played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie Coach Carter, recently heard about the Soldiers and held an impromptu practice with the teams.
Diana uses TeamSnap, a web-based application for managing sports teams and groups, to organize the teams. Using TeamSnap’s basketball team website , she sent out a quick email and text message blast right from the site and they were able to get over 30 boys in attendance at the last minute. This was no ordinary shoot-around but rather a three-hour practice with Coach Carter running drills and then breaking to talk to the kids about the importance of education and responsibility. He went on to speak with the parents, offering them encouragement and advice. Diana says, “It was a beautiful experience,” and just one of the many blessings that they have received.
The Soldiers have put an emphasis on recruiting a premiere coaching staff of former players, from local all-stars to out of state collegiate players. The volunteer team coaches are dedicated to teaching fundamental basketball on the court and the importance of academics outside of the gym. A few weeks ago, a man dressed in a suit stood at the door of the gymnasium while the team practiced. He walked over to Head Coach Vincent Powell, handed him an envelope and said, “I’ve heard you guys have been doing great things with the kids down here, keep up the good work.” As the man walked away, Coach Powell looked down to find that the envelope contained floor seat tickets to a Golden State Warriors game.
The Soldiers are a cost-effective nonprofit organization with a very “keep it real” attitude and everyone willing to roll up their sleeves. Diana sends out weekly emails to the players, parents, and tutors via TeamSnap to give an update on the team’s progress and upcoming events. “Our private team page on TeamSnap is great for new players and parents joining the team because it captures the history and mission of our organization and brings them up to speed quickly. They can take a look at our roster page to see pictures of the players, scan our photos, check out archived seasons and read all of our previous communications.”
Parents meet on a monthly basis to discuss and plan upcoming events and coordinate various fundraising events. The kids help out by selling everything from cookies to beef jerky and raffle tickets. The Soldiers have been fortunate enough to find strong community partners including Starbucks, the Golden State Warriors, Safeway, Costco and local restaurants.
It is certainly a group effort, but with help coming from many angles, the Soldiers have high hopes for the future. After learning more about this incredible organization, TeamSnap has offered to provide free service to the East Bay Soldiers teams in support of their mission. If you would like to learn more about the East Bay Soldiers or offer a donation to support the organization, visit their website at: http://www.eastbaysoldiers.org.
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