LANSDOWNE >> Clifford Chery, coach of the Lansdowne Boys and Girls Club basketball team, knew he wanted to make a difference in the lives of the youth in his community, but he wasn’t sure how.
A lover of the sport, he always wanted to coach. Luck would have it that an opening for to lead the 7- and 8-year-olds presented itself two years ago. With a focus on the fundamentals he soon found that coaching the sport of basketball would allow him the opportunity to make a positive impact in both the lives of his players, but with the parents and community as well.
“A lot of kids love basketball, but they don’t understand the fundamentals,” Chery said. “I wanted to teach them discipline, to use basketball as a vessel and teach them life through the game.”
Describing his coaching style as “strict but not mean,” Chery and the help of assistants Bill Smith, Terrence Williams and Sean Coleman, each of whom have a child playing on the team, Chery said the competitiveness he sees in his players gives him motivation to do more.
“Coaching has changed my life,” Chery said, a 2010 (1W0) graduate of Williamson Free School of the Trades and later Delaware County Community College, where he earned an associate degree in engineering.
Many of the traits honed at Williamson have followed in his coach methods, pursuing the values of faith, integrity, diligence, excellence and service.
“Basketball is helping these kids in other ways in their lives,” he said. “If the child is acting up in school, or if they’re misbehaving at home, I say to the parents that I’ll implement something at practice.”
“He brings a lot of energy,” said Earle Greer, basketball director for the Lansdowne Boys and Girls Club. “The kids look up to him, he’s definitely an asset for us.”
Finding various ways to equate struggles within the game to real-life situations, Chery said the qualities he teaches on the court are ones he hopes his players apply at home, in school or in the community.
“If they get frustrated during the game, they’re prone to more turnovers and it can affect the team,” Chery said. “If you do something on the street, it could affect their family in a way that you can’t get back.”
With the support of the local Lambert Legacy Charities and a generous donation by Rashaad Lambert, who was joined at practice Thursday by Montgomery County Magisterial District Judge Gregory Scott, Chery and his players received 30 tickets to the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat game the Wells Fargo Center Friday night.
“I wanted to give them a reward for doing all the right things and to make sure they’re able to take something with them,” Lambert said.
Chery was ecstatic to end the season “on a high note.”
The final practice saw the red and black teams, who out of 15 games total have only lost four, face off and put those fundamentals to the test. Parents lined the side of the gym, mingling and watching quietly, with not a single one directing their children, letting the coaches do all the work.
Saraea Alston-Leslie, who runs the Post Road Bistro in Trainer, connected Chery with Lambert to get the Sixers game rolling. Her 7-year-old son, Fareed Leslie, plays on Chery’s team and has, in her opinion, reached significant milestones in just a short time.
“He’s learning so much, he’s learned sportsmanship and how to be a team player,” Alston-Leslie said. “He may play two minutes in a game, but he’s in every huddle and cheering his team on.”
“He’s held accountable, he knows the team needs him.”
In Chery’s final statement to the team, he addressed the importance of schoolwork and being a polite and adept child at home.
“Basketball is a privilege, but school is important,” he said.
Amaury Espinal, 7, was given praise by coaches at the end of practice. After getting in trouble at his charter school, his mother, Jeneka Espinal, said he was “a little too hands-on” and would “get trouble for putting his arm around his buddy.”
But, on his final day before returning to public school at East Lansdowne Elementary, he received a “Super Student” commendation from his teacher.
“He was so excited and he wanted to show his coach,” Jeneka Espinal said. “It’ll be his first basketball game.”
For Chery, the end of this season is simply the beginning for many good things to come.
“I see the parents are doing a great job, but it gives me a great feeling to help out a little bit more,” Chery said. “It’s really heart-warming, I love it.”