Written by Megan Solberg
Energy levels are intense in the high school gym for a Sunday night. It’s a full house, and the sound of a basketball pounding up and down the court cuts through the cheers, commentary, and motivational instructions from the coaches and players on the sidelines.
This is a typical scene for HoopLife’s The LAB, a free Sunday night open gym for high school athletes. The scrimmages are free to attend, and the goal of The LAB is for all high school kids to have access to play sports without financial barriers. By emphasizing the importance of teamwork, acceptance, and determination, The LAB invests in the community’s youth and helps them develop crucial life skills through basketball.
Zane Graham, 14, Joshua Wambululu, 19, Evan Ripplinger, 15, Oroma Bongomin, 14, and Gitara Bongomin, 19, are playing as a team tonight, and while they are excited to talk about their time with HoopLife and at The LAB, it’s clear what they really want is to get back on the court.
“The LAB is the best thing HoopLife has come up with,” says Zane enthusiastically. There is a resounding consensus around the table. The team agrees the environment is accepting, friendly, and welcoming, but it also challenges them every week to be better players and leaders. The sound of the buzzer causes the boys to simultaneously jump out of their seats; it’s their turn to play.
Just coming off the court is Amanie, 17, and she sits down to talk about her passion for basketball and what it has meant for her to play with The LAB. Her adrenaline level is still high, and she already looks amped to get back out there. She has been participating in The LAB since last winter, and she says that basketball has always been important to her. Her mom used to play, and Amanie has played on her school team since she was very young. In addition to the sport being a lot of fun, Amanie thrives on the contagious energy level in The LAB.
“Playing basketball at The LAB makes me a better, faster player,” she says. “It keeps me in shape and active instead of sitting at home on a Sunday night. It also ensures my skills stay sharp, and I have always found that the more I play, the more fun I have with the sport.”
Being one of few girls who participate in The LAB doesn’t phase Amanie; she clearly enjoys the atmosphere, and on the court, she does not shy away from going after the ball and taking her shot. She would like to see more girls come out to play, and she recognizes that some girls might be intimidated by the idea of playing with mostly boys for fear of judgement. For herself, she has always found the environment at The LAB to be open, friendly, and welcoming, and the atmosphere drives her to be a better player.
Zane, Joshua, Evan, Oroma, and Gitara agree that the coaching staff is supportive and helpful, and that support is essential for their growth as players. However, the support they provide goes beyond the basketball court; lasting friendships have been built through HoopLife and through The LAB. That community and that support encourages them as they strive to achieve any goals they have, not only their basketball goals.
K+S Potash Canada partners with HoopLife in support of The LAB so they can continue to do what they do best: encourage leadership, hard work, and determination in young people as they strive to achieve their goals, both in basketball and in life.