“Books, ball and unity” is the motto of the latest New Yorkers of the Week, a father-son coaching team in Harlem that uses basketball to teach kids about more than just the game. NY1′s Michael Scotto filed the following report.
Willie Kelly III and his father, Willie Kelly II, started the Hoops By The River organization in East Harlem last summer. Since then, they have sponsored the Harlem Jazz basketball team, which consists of 36 city children. In the summer, the kids play by the river at Thomas Jefferson Park, and during the winter they play at the Union Settlement Association. The space and court time are donated.
“We just want to keep the community together and the community safe and keep a lot of kids off of the street,” says Willie Kelly III.
The team practices three days a week, and on weekend, the coaches hold a free basketball clinic for 30 more girls and boys, from ages five to 17.
“I want to be an NBA player,” says Dajuan Piper, one of the children sponsored by Hoops by the River.
The younger Kelly says he started the program to make sure children had a place to go after school.
“That enables these kids to come and have free time in the gym, learn how to play basketball, have time to interact with their peers and hopefully be productive citizens in life,” he says.
The elder Kelly has been coaching for 20 years.
“My son sort of pulled my arm and brought me back out here, so now the energy is here,” says Willie Kelly II.
The Kellys, who pay for the uniforms, can be hard on the kids, but say it makes for a stronger team.
“A lot of these kids don’t have any father figures out there, and so with me being aggressive and a little tougher on them, that helps to prepare them to become a better man,” says Willie Kelly III.
“I like that because I just want to be a better player,” says Piper.
“I learned to keep my head up, don’t get an attitude. If you miss a shot, don’t get mad and walk away,” says Polo Fernandez, another team member. “Go after the ball. Try your hardest.”
Delilah Garcia brings her son, Joseph, from the Bronx.
“I always tell him, if you maintain your grades and if your coach sees that you are performing very well at school, you can be able to continue to come here to practice and to play at different tournaments,” she says.
School is the coaches’ number-one priority for their students.
“If I could get the space where these kids could be in the classroom and work on their weak areas in school, that will be much better,” says Willie Kelly III.
“They see me not only as a teacher on the court but as a teacher in life,” says Willie Kelly II.
So for teaching kids to be team players and setting a good example, Willie Kelly II and Willie Kelly III are the latest New Yorkers of the Week.