“Any kid off the streets who can play a little basketball can get though high school,” says Gary Brooks, an attorney volunteer activist with the Baltimore Stars Coalition. “But we take these same promising young basketball players and show them how to do better– to use their basketball talent to enrich their academic standings, and get into the better high schools. We show them how to avoid being used by basketball—the all-too-common experience of being heavily recruited, then–given a short span of play, quickly and in my opinion cruelly—dropped. We teach them how, instead of being used by basketball, to use basketball to improve their lives.
About 30 volunteers working with as many as 100 young people from eight years old to 17 are mastering this still-young art of using basketball, first, to attract students to the neighborhood recreation centers; then, once there in a group, lead them to a life larger than and beyond basketball.
“We begin,” Brooks, says, “by raising expectations. We preach: aspire to a magnet school, stay in the program, perform well, study hard. And all the while you are playing basketball, keep your eye on higher education. We lead them to expect to make it into the better high schools, parochial and private schools, and then into a four year college. Many if not most do meet our plans for them—we have the data to prove it.’
The anecdotal results do indeed make Brooks’ case: Braxton Dupree is in the tenth grade at Calvert Hall; Ben Eaton, the eleventh at Gilman; Charles Adams, the eleventh at Mt. St. Joe; Joshua Burroughs, the tenth at Boys Latin; Kyle Brooks, the tenth at City College; Dejuan Summers, the eleventh at McDonogh.
Russell Frederick, Jr. has been in STARS since he was 11 years old—he is now 16. He says, “STARS helped me grow as a person, allowed me to meet a lot of people I would never have met, and to travel to places I have never would have seen.” He lived in the Loch Raven section of Baltimore before moving to Harford County. He is now going into his junior year at Calvert Hall—and, not surprisingly, has aspirations to go to college. “After five years in STARS,” he says, “I am a different person, looking at a different world.”
Braxton Dupree, now 15, knew he wanted to be in STARS when he was only six, although he had to wait until he was 9 to be accepted into the program. He happens to be tall and a very good center—which drew attention to him in Gardenville elementary, St. Anthony’s (middle school) and, currently, at Calvert Hall, where he is going into his sophomore year. He says, “STARS taught me life skills. How to communicate with people. How to show my respect for adults. How to present myself well. STARS is like basketball—it teaches the value of teamwork—on the court and in life.”
Brian Johnson joined STARS started when he was 11. He had been playing what he modestly called “pretty good basketball” as guard for the Madison Buccaneers recreation center, and on the strength of that performance, his coach recommend him to STARS. Once in STARS and its influence, he was able to matriculate into Mt. St Joseph High School. (He had attended public elementary and middle schools in Annapolis). STARS,” he says, “builds character, and with mentoring of the younger guys by the older, keeps us well-connected as friends.” Brian is 16 now and says, “I owe STARS a lot.”
The Abell Foundation salutes the Baltimore Stars Coalition—all of the coaches and volunteers; and its leadership–Gary Brooks, Charles Harrison, Troy Franklin, Milton Hawkins, Duane Davis, Anthony Baylor, Mark Sissman, Tony Stanback and Shawn Spence– for teaching young basketball players to “use basketball, instead of being used by, basketball.”