Dover PAL program teaches leadership through basketball

Heavyweight Boxer Amir “Hardcore” Mansour and Pfc. Anthony Smith, coordinator of the Dover PAL, give a motivational talk to the inaugural Leadership and Basketball Training Program at the YMCA in Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — It’s always a bonus to be able to learn valuable life lessons while having fun at the same time.

That’s exactly what is happening to some students from Parkway Academy Central in west Dover, who are receiving several keys to success from the Dover Police Athletic League and NCALL’s Restoring Central Dover initiative’s inaugural Leadership and Basketball Training Program.

All that Patrolman First Class Anthony Smith, coordinator of the Dover PAL, and others involved with the program can hope is that the students absorb the program’s messages and use those valuable keys to unlock their potential.

“Initially when I first came out (to the Dover YMCA) kids would come out just to play basketball,” said Pfc. Smith. “I thought ‘How can we improve that?’ We improved that by giving them the leadership program so that as they’re playing basketball, they can become leaders on the basketball court.”

The objective of the leadership program is to teach all the participants that they possess leadership qualities. In addition, the students receive proper training in fundamental basketball skills.

From left, are participants of the Leadership and Basketball Training Program. Dr. Chanda Jackson (instructor), Officer Joshua Wilkerson, Mixing, Alex Massado (instructor), Jhasir, Amir “Hardcore” Mansour, Elijah, Pfc. Anthony Smith, Daniel, Jacob and Amber. Kneeling are Dana and Hassan. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

The Parkway Academy is an alternative discipline school that provides a comprehensive program of individualized educational, psychological and social services to youth who have been recommended for an alternative school placement.

Phillip Plummer, a senior at Parkway Academy, said he and the other students appreciate the efforts of the Dover PAL and Restoring Central Dover.

“It’s a pretty good thing that they’ve got going on for the kids to help them out and help keep them out of trouble,” Phillip said. “I’ve always liked playing basketball, so this has kept me out of trouble.

“Once I’ve stopped playing that’s when I started to get in trouble and that’s when I found myself here.”

The Leadership and Basketball Program is a seven-week course that is far more than just about swishing hoops at the Dover YMCA on Friday afternoons. It is about establishing positive relationships and experiences for students.

Jhasir (right) tries to steel the ball from Jessie (left) during the basketball game at the
YMCA in Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

“One of the things with the community policing portion of the city of Dover and the police department was that we were thinking about a program that can benefit the youth,” Pfc. Smith said. “I ended up going to the local schools in Dover, met with the kids and talked to the kids, and they were unaware of an actual program — but I wanted to see who was actually absorbed into this kind of idea.

“Once I went into Parkway Academy every student just seemed so interested that we decided we were going to go ahead and launch a leadership program titled, ‘Don’t be ordinary, be extraordinary.’”

Pfc. Smith gets assistance from Cpl. Krista Roosa and Patrolman First Class Katelyn Nicolosi from the Dover Police Department as well as support from Parkway Academy Principal Gail Evans and NCALL’s Dr. Chanda Jackson.

Success comes in phases

The program is held every Friday and lasts seven weeks, consisting of seven phases of leadership and basketball training.

Each phase begins with leadership training, then transitions to basketball fundamentals and ends with a basketball game.

The 20 or so high-school aged students from Parkway Academy attending the program get the opportunity to watch a motivational video, learn about a distinct theme every week, and hear from a guest speaker before receiving basketball training.

A PAL officer conducts a check with the participants during the basketball game to see if the students are retaining what they have learned in previous training.

The seven phases in the first Leadership and Basketball Training Program consist of (life skill/basketball skill):

•Phase 1 — You are not ordinary, but extraordinary/fundamentals of conditioning

•Phase 2 — Learn to speak in a group and control the room/fundamentals of dribbling

•Phase 3 — How do I save money for the future/fundamentals of passing

•Phase 4 — Look sharp, feel sharp and be sharp/fundamentals of shooting

•Phase 5 — Show that you are a leader/fundamentals of a team

•Phase 6 — Speak it, believe it and you shall achieve it/ fundamentals of coaching

•Phase 7 — Volunteer your time/Completion of training/Photos/Graduation

Strong messages
from strong people

Last Friday, which marked the third phase, the leadership group heard from Amir Mansour, who overcame a difficult time in his younger life when he spent more than eight years in prison before he become a heavyweight boxing champion, despite everybody telling him his was too old to reach his dreams.

The week prior, they heard the story of Delaware Correctional Officer Joshua Wilkerson, who was held hostage for 10 hours during a prison riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center last year that led to the death of Lt. Steven Floyd.

Mr. Wilkerson said time has made it somewhat easier for him to speak of his ordeal and was happy to share his story with the students.

“This is a good program,” Mr. Wilkerson said. “We’re trying to get kids to see the brighter side of things and get back onto the straight and narrow. You’ve got to kind of take them by the hand, they’re not going to do it on their own and somebody has to lead the way. These are good people to do it.

“When they heard my story, I think to them it was real. It was something they could see that happened locally and wasn’t something too far away.”

Mr. Mansour, who was introduced with a video that showed several of his memorable knockouts, told the students that he would come back to work with them and that he knew actions speak louder than words.

“Right now, you guys are in a perfect situation and I promise you that,” Mr. Mansour said. “The Police Athletic League was something that we only heard of in my community growing up. We just heard about it, but we didn’t have that.

“We weren’t able to get up and go to school and then come to a gym. A lot of times you have opportunities and you really don’t realize how important they are.”

He said the small-town environment in Dover is conducive to helping students who might have found themselves on the wrong track getting things back together again.

“You really don’t realize how some kids in your situation would absolutely love to be able to leave school, go home and do their homework or whatever, and then come to a place like (the Dover YMCA),” Mr. Mansour said. “This would be paradise to a kid in Chicago, or New York and even Philadelphia.

“They don’t have a lot of people who care about them. One thing I know for sure is that my little cousin (Pfc. Smith) loves you guys, he talks about you guys all the time and he cares about you.”

Making Friday a special time

Every Friday, Pfc. Smith and the others await the students with smiles and a message of encouragement. The program lasts from 11:50 a.m. until 1:50 p.m. at the Dover YMCA’s gymnasium.

Before Mr. Mansour spoke to the group last Friday, NCALL’s Camille Moman gave them tips at finding financial success and preparing for their futures.

The students might not realize it at the time, but they are learning important life lessons, while also having fun on the basketball court.

“Each week we make kids team leaders, so they’re in charge of their team because it’s a leadership program,” Pfc. Smith said. “We’re developing them now to be leaders, so that when they start going to work, they can say, ‘Hey, I’m in charge of this, I can take care of this.’

“Or, if they go outside of here and they go to play college basketball, they can say, ‘I know how to set up workouts, I know how to set up the leadership, I’m a good captain.’ They’ve done all of this and they can express what they’ve learned in this leadership program.”

Amber Lilly, a sophomore at Parkway Academy, said she is appreciative of the opportunity.

“I think this is a good idea,” she said. “I really like it. We learn a lot on and off the basketball court and I really enjoy the program. Plus, it’s a nice way to get out of school early on Fridays.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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