Archive for January 10, 2014

The Team That Changed A Community

It started out as a way to get the kids off of the street. To give them something to do before the street found them something to do…but it became much more than a basketball team, it became a way of life.

Flowers Bay is a unique community; it is one of the last remaining communities that is compiled of almost only Black Islanders.  On an Island where corruption is rampant, where the culture of the mainland Hondurans continues to infiltrate everywhere it touches, where the village no longer raises a child, the street does; Flowers Bay has managed to remain somewhat untouchable. They still compose most of their meals off of what they grow, hunt, or fish. They still speak their Island Creole freely, their children still sing the Island songs, and play the Island games. Family comes first, and everyone knows every detail about each other (voluntarily or otherwise). Sundays are still filled with steam pressed dresses and the smell of something delicious baking in the oven…but there is a dark side too. As times get harder and the tourist industry dominates the job market, the people here scramble to make ends meet when the cruise ships float away into the horizon. Benches fill with men drowning the pressures mounting on them in a bottle of rum, or go out and work on ships, leaving women to tend to the home and everything else in existence, alone. The children find themselves wandering back out into the street, which becomes the father figure they are missing.

But this story doesn’t come with the same hopeless ending, this story begins where most would end.

We started out small, just a bunch of kids in oversized jerseys bouncing a basketball. Some knew how to play, some didn’t. We practiced sometimes, but mostly we just liked each others’ company. We didn’t have anywhere to practice so we used a slab of cement by the church with a rusty hoop to shoot around on. We participated in a youth basketball league (with two complete teams), sometimes we lost to the other team, sometimes we won the other team.  We spent a lot of time together outside of basketball; cooking, watching NBA games, checking homework, swimming in the sea; we became a true family. Pretty soon almost everywhere we went, we went together. I could ask anyone on the street if they had seen “my boys”, and no one wondered what I meant. It felt good for the boys to be recognized as more than just a bunch of 12-13 year olds running around on the street.

But we wanted something more.

So we begged our government to build a real basketball court in our community;and they did. (If it was only that easy that would be a real fairy-tale, but it took years of hard work from many people to get the court actually finished.) It was the first regulation sized court on the entire Island.   We joined the two youth teams together and started practicing more seriously. Soon, we decided to enter our team into the Adult Basketball League. We were the only organized youth over 14 team on the entire Island, and the only team in the Adult League that was composed entirely of youth. We had been together playing for about three years now so our skill level grew exponentially in that time frame, and it showed. We started winning almost all of the games that we played, and the Flowers Bay basketball court earned the nickname “The Burying Ground”, barely anyone made it out alive when they played us.

But we weren’t just great ball players, the boys were becoming role models for not only just the younger kids who worshipped them, but even the adults who had lost some hope admist the hard times. You see, in order to be on our team, you had to have a certain standard. The boys didn’t cuss, they didn’t argue with the refs, they were all in school and getting good grades (those whose families couldn’t afford to put their kids in school were sponsored by WYM), they no longer floated around aimlessly on the street, they walked with their head held high and a purpose in their souls. Little kids followed behind them like puppies, people came out of their houses on away games when they heard our bus passing by to find out if we won or lost. When young boys were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up they would reply, “I want to be an FLB Boy” (our team name). The court would fill up with people in purple and black (our team colors) whenever we played home. Men who would usually be drinking by the shop would make sure they were sober the days of our games. For that hour and a half when we played, everyone would forget about the bills, the empty wallets and purses, the hard times, the pressure, the stress. The boys gave them hope, gave them a reason to cheer. And cheer they did, every lay-up, every free throw would be met with a gallery of screams. The boys became hometown super heroes, fighting against all of the injustices and stigmas that the youth must face here. Their uniform became their capes, having an opportunity at a future was their mission.

And we were starting to get noticed. We earned an invitation to a scouting camp on the mainland of Honduras, in the capital city. So we worked hard and raised the money to get us there. For some of the boys it was the first time they had ever been to the capital city. For most of them, it would be the first time they played in an indoor gym. 

It was obvious wherever we went that we stood out, the boys were the only full Black team to be found. When they entered a room, everyone watched them with an aire of curiousity, of awe. From the bus, to the hotel, to the gym, the boys never lost that sense of purpose. And as a result, they walked with an aura of confidence that was impossible to ignore. When you are in the same room as them, the room glows with potential, you get goosebumps for no reason. You see, when you are with the boys, you are in the presence of greatness, your heart and soul reacts to them before you brain has any idea what is going on. THAT is the effect they have on people, everywhere they go. And the mainland wasn’t any different, every team we played, we won. We played the best they had to offer, and by the end of the game, the crowd always ended up cheering for us. You couldn’t help but want to be a part of our family, to cheer for them meant that you somehow belonged, that you weren’t just witnessing something great, you were participating in it.

Back home, the Flowers Bay community waited patiently for each phone call that we won another game, and they celebrated with us from hundreds of miles and the Caribbean Sea separating us.

We returned victorious, mostly because we had to, we couldn’t let our entire community down. The boys came back with experiences they would never forget, I came back with all of their futures on my shoulders. We had reached a point in our journey where it wasn’t just about basketball anymore, it wasn’t just about our community; there was a buzz that surrounded the boys now, a nagging in my heart that wouldn’t go away.

As a result of our trip to the mainland, five of my boys were given full ride scholarships for room, board, and schooling with the Central American Basketball Organization (C.A.B.O.) An accomplishment that has never been achieved on this Island before. They will proudly represent their small Island, but their journey into their future has just begun. They will have to fight for everything they want, they will have to “beat the odds” every single day, they will have to deal with the pressure of being the first, being role models for thousands of kids left behind; but they will never be ordinary because they were never meant to be.

So here is a toast to “my boys”. May they never lose sight of where they came from while looking forward to where they are going.

Your coach,

Courtney Lenox

CHECK US OUT!!! The Flowers Bay Youth Basketball Team-PRESENTATION

(Link to a short video of one of their games)