Whereas most schools in the US take a few days off during Easter Week, here in the UK there is a two-week break that begins the week before and runs through Easter weekend. Therefore, opportunities to visit schools and observe lessons are not available. Luckily, my move out to Hemel Hempstead, a community just north of London (more on that later), presented me with a unique chance to get involved with something that has always been close to my heart – coaching basketball.
For those unaware, I gave up being the boys varsity basketball at University High School, my alma mater and where I was once a player myself, to accept the Fulbright grant and opportunity to move to the UK for six months. Although while here my primary focus is inclusive history curricula and pedagogy, being able to help with school sports was something I hoped to do once I got here. When I decided to move out of London once my family came in mid-March (again, more on that later), I began to look up possible ways to do a little coaching during my time away from the classroom and Institute of Education. The US-UK Fulbright Commission had listed this as a way in which US teachers could help if selected and if they had experience in this regard. Having coached for over 20 years, I was eager to get involved anyway I could.
Basketball is not as popular here as it is back home. Living in Illinois, we are blessed to have a rich tradition of excellence in the sport. In the UK, its popularity rests behind football (soccer), rugby, cricket, and others unique to British history, which is entirely understandable. This does not mean there is absent a passionate group involved in growing the game through skills sessions, academies, and camps. One of these groups is Russell Basketball in Hertfordshire, the county in which Hemel Hempstead is located. Associated with the local pro-team, the Hemel Storm, the Russell group supports developmental youth programs throughout the area. One of these events was a camp held at John F. Kennedy High School in Hemel last Thursday and Friday. I was blessed to be involved in these camps and to have the chance to work with some great individuals who care deeply about the game and the young people of England interested in playing it.
On Thursday, we had 40 boys (one of whom was my youngest son) and girls from years 3 to 6 in school come for a 9am to 3pm session where we worked on developing skills and played some games. This was repeated the next day with 33 boys and 2 girls (one of whom was my daughter) in years 7 to 11. For both days, I was asked to be the guest speaker during lunch where I talked with the campers about basketball in the US and the importance of hard work in the classroom and sporting field. Both speaking sessions ended with time for questions which I really enjoyed. This was truly a great cultural experience as I learned that young people in the UK have very similar interests to their US counterparts. Our peoples are clearly connected by more than a common language, which is illuminating to think about and something I am going to pay even more attention to during the last few months of my Fulbright program.
An amazing side-story to all of this concerns meeting Khapri Alston, a player for the Hemel Storm who came to camp yesterday to work with the older group. Khapri is from Chicago, a few hours north of where I am from, and he attended Thornwood High School in South Holland before moving on to Midwestern State to play basketball. Amazingly, I coached against Khapri in 2011 at the State Farm Holiday Classic Tournament. We both remembered each other as did some of my former players who I texted about our chance meeting that day. What a small world we live in where two Illinoisans can meet up at a basketball camp in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, almost 4,000 miles away from where we come from. Working with Khapri and the other camp coaches (Jack Burnell, Zak Wells, and Nichole Walker) is an experience I will never forget and always cherish. We have another camp session in early June and I can’t wait to get back into the gym with this group. It was a great basketball break that without the support of the Fulbright DAT program I would have never had.
Until next time, Cheers.