Life and basketball

Frederick program teaches skills to kids on and off the court

Thursday, July 27, 2006

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Photos by David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
Monroe College basketball player and Frederick resident Ronika Beard plays a little one-on-one with Basketball Coaches Without Boundaries vice president and director of instructional camps Darryl Whiten at College Estates Park.

As a young girl growing up in Frederick, 18-year-old Ronika Beard was frustrated that she did not have the opportunity to fulfill her passion for basketball 365 days a year.

Basketball was a game she had been playing nearly her entire life with her family, but most of the recreational teams she joined separated boys and girls into single-sex teams and were seasonal. Beard simply wanted to play the game year-round and gain skills and confidence.

Then, Basketball Coaches without Boundaries Inc., a Frederick-based nonprofit volunteer organization that offers year-round basketball programs started in 1999, and Beard jumped at the chance to work with the group.

She didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on her life — eventually helping her develop a future career.

Beard said through the group she gained an appreciation for education, realizing the need for higher education in her life and a future beyond the game.

‘‘You can’t play basketball forever,” she said. ‘‘I know I’ll have a degree where I can get a job.”

The program not only teaches basketball to young children throughout Frederick County, but also the value of education through social and educational programs. The program is unique to the area and started after Frederick County native Raymond Whiten was inspired by the name for the group Doctors Without Borders. He wanted to give kids hope and opportunity through basketball.

Private donations and sponsors, such as State Farm Insurance and the City of Frederick, fund the organization.

In keeping with its mission, the nonprofit hosts a higher education and college fair in the summer with representatives from local colleges and awards scholarships to deserving high school juniors and seniors.

Darryl Whiten, vice president of the group, said its ultimate goal is to teach its players discipline and prepare them with education for life after the game.

‘‘The air’s going to come out of the ball sometime,” Darryl Whiten said. ‘‘No books, no ball.”

Darryl Whiten noted that Basketball Coaches without Boundaries is needed in Frederick County because of the lack of activities for young people.

As a Frederick probation officer, Whiten said he sees a lot of kids who need positive activities to help turn their lives around.

‘‘This league is needed for the simple fact that it keeps them involved in a drug-free, positive environment over the summer,” he said.

Basketball Coaches without Boundaries’ old rosters also boast several notable college basketball players including Jermaine Thomas of LaSalle University and Ashley Bush of Seton Hall University, Whiten said.

Basketball Coaches without Boundaries does not require its players to maintain a specific grade point average to participate.

In the past, some coaches have honored parents’ requests to hold their child back from a game or two if he or she is not doing well in school.

Although she was a good student in high school, Beard said she was more concerned with basketball and was not thinking of college until she was chosen for the league’s Nicholas Leakins SAT Scholarship.

Each year, 20 to 30 Frederick County high school juniors and seniors take the SAT, paid for by the group, and are paired with a mentor who guides them through their college decision-making process.

From that experience, Beard said she realized a better job and future starts with a college degree. She graduated from Frederick High School last year and is now a rising sophomore and criminal justice major at Monroe College in New York City.

She hopes to become a police officer after graduation and is already a member of the Frederick Explorer Post program. Through this volunteer program, Beard has the opportunity to work with the police department and expand her knowledge of law enforcement and the different challenges and job skills required.

In the meantime, Beard is still a passionate basketball player as the shooting guard for the Lady Mustangs, Monroe’s undefeated Division 3 National Championship women’s basketball team.

With her first year of college under her belt, Beard is giving back to BCWB as an intern and assistant in the Youth Instructional Camp this summer.

BCWB has several summertime programs including a Youth Summer League, Instructional Camp and Day Camp for boys and girls, grades one through 10. Most games are played at College Estates Park and Hillcrest Elementary School in Frederick.

Giving back is important to Beard, she said, and she tries to teach the younger players how to be a better people.

‘‘I’ve learned so much stuff from these guys, so I want to help the younger people,” she said.