More than basketball …

By Jason Palos
Thursday Volunteer

Writing this has been surprisingly daunting … basketball means so much to me. One, it’s a fun game, but more powerfully, and I feel this is true for the neighbors and myself, it reminds us of a different time in our lives.

As an only child living with a single parent, who was rightfully at work most of the time, I spent endless hot summer days playing in our driveway. Having the only hoop in the neighborhood, it was kind of like being the only pond in the Serengeti. Everyone thirsty for some hoop is going to show up, invited or not, even a kid from a different neighborhood, passing through, that jumps up to hang on the rim and brings down the part attached to the backboard with him.

On one hot summer day between elementary school years, I was relegated to the steamy garage to watch as a group of high-school kids took possession of my driveway. They were talking about girls — things I had never heard of.

I remember the day that our great neighbor, a mid-30s single guy, installed the backboard to the roof over the driveway. Having to install it via the attic, he had a misstep and burst down from the garage ceiling with his two legs dangling.

I remember losing a game, and with great frustration, intending to punt the ball straight up in the air, I kicked it right though the kitchen window. A loud four letter word quickly followed as Mom was on the other side of that window washing dishes. Sorry, Mom!

Growing up I believed I was not good enough for most things. Junior high tryouts lasted a few weeks, and I was playing great. I was making all my shots. Bigger kids I didn’t know were coming up to me telling me how good I was and that I’d definitely make the team. But I quit before the team was picked, because I believed l wasn’t good enough. And that wasn’t true.

I’ve asked several of our talented neighbors, the ones it’s obvious grew up playing ball, “Did you play ball in school?” It’s been all no’s. It adds to the mystery of their story. They have talent, so why didn’t they play? It’s easily imagined that many neighbors had overwhelming challenges growing up, much greater than my middle class lack of self-esteem. I don’t know all of their stories, but they come from Detroit, New Orleans, North Carolina, Houston, Pflugerville, California, all over.

When we’re on that court on Thursday mornings, it feels like we are setting a new starting line. Life is not our past, but what is in front of us. The gym is full of optimism, joy, smiles, laughter, encouragement, kidding and appreciation to be able to play a game we’ve loved for so long. It brings out our innocence and a feeling that all is well.

Over the months I’ve seen quiet and shy neighbors open up and blossom like a slow-motion video of a flower opening. Our hour of basketball means so much to us. It has created positive social interactions that our neighbors need so much. It’s meant meeting new people, getting some exercise and escaping life on the streets. It’s been a doorway for mentoring. We discuss job interviews, choosing the best people to surround ourselves with, eating healthy and so much more to help improve our lives.

When we first started our Thursday basketball time, Micaela, a former intern, repeated the popular phrase, “Ball is life.” I think we’ve given that a new meaning at Trinity Center.

[Editor’s Note: Several months ago Jason, one of our multi-purpose volunteers who has assisted us with  financial assistance, breakfast prep and even daily devotionals, came up with the idea of offering an hour of basketball each Thursday  morning. St. David’s gave us permission to use the gym, and we started with Jason, one ball and a couple of guys. Now the number of participants varies from a few to as many as 14 participants (including some women). And now we have two balls and a mascot! People who rarely speak to anyone in the Center will go into the gym, shoot some hoops and talk up a storm with Jason and the other players. Thanks to Jason for conceiving and executing this new “more-than- sports” addition to Trinity Center.]