Coaches and educators often work together to help mold young students and athletes into leaders.
You hear coaches praise their players for demonstrating leadership qualities on the field and the court. But, how often do you hear of that extending out of sport and into the community?
The Portsmouth Trojans boys basketball team is working to build their leadership qualities, and have helped enhance those attributes by becoming engaged off the hardwood.
Friday afternoon, the Trojans were presented with a certificate of excellence and a $500 reward from Thomas and Angela Peterson on behalf of Dr. Jean Kerney and K&C Educational Associates in Chillicothe.
Portsmouth received the honor for having the most representatives of any school at the Youth Legal Justice Conference in Chillicothe last August.
It was a surprise for the Trojans and their head coach Gene Collins, as they were unaware that they would be given the award prior to attending.
“It’s great, it was a great opportunity,” Collins said. “I took my three captains this summer, and we were able to go up. We didn’t have any idea that we would end up getting $500 out of it. Our goal was to spend some time together and try to start the bond of developing some leadership in the captains.”
Senior captains Daniel Jordan, Reese Johnson, and DJ Eley were all engaged in the activities at the conference, absorbing valuable information in the process.
“We didn’t even know we were going to get this, we had no idea,” Jordan said. “We just went up there just to go.”
“To know we got rewarded for something effortless that was not mandatory, we did it on our own time, it shows that this school does have kids that don’t have to do things just for rewards.”
It was a trip well worth the time for the teammates, who were able to discover valuable principles of leadership.
“Donating time pays off,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to know that we went up there for about four hours and we ended up getting $500 out of it, and we learned things too.”
Those in attendance during the August event were treated to several different presentations, including one from keynote speaker John Darjean who was a former minor league baseball player in addition to being an author and actor.
“I liked listening to all the other people’s stories, and what they did throughout life to where they are now,” Eley said about the experience.
Collins has watched the trio of seniors become better as players and people during their past four years at Portsmouth.
“It’s phenomenal, the growth that we’ve had,” Collins said. “With the kids going from young freshman that were very quiet and wouldn’t say a whole lot to guys as seniors that have taken on a leadership
role. We’ve taken a trip to Florida last year with those guys, and they’re getting ready to play their last game tonight.”
“There’s a lot of buy-in, and the fact that there were 12 other schools there and we had the most representation is something that these kids can take with them. It’s great exposure for the school.”
The three Trojans have learned about themselves in their time at Portsmouth, and have used those life lessons to uplift those around them.
Each player knows how important it is to be a good role model, especially with younger eyes watching them in awe as spectators. Being someone the younger generation can look up to and appreciate is something very dear to the Trojans captains.
“I think it’s very important, especially for the elementary kids,” Jordan said. “They come to our games, and they cheer us on.”
“Some of us go over and help those little kids, and they see us in the hallway and stare at us and want to be us. For us to be bad kids, that’s not good for them. So, I think them looking up to us helps us to be better.”
Eley shared a similar view to Jordan in that regard.
“They really look up to us,” Eley said. “If they see us do something bad, then they’ll think that’s ok. So, we’ve always got to do the right things.”
Portsmouth is an area that is constantly dragged down from outsiders in a negative light, but Collins has tried to uplift his team in a positive manner.
With so much focus on drugs and the bad aspects of things, the Trojans head coach hopes his team takes a different path, and uses their podium to inspire their peers to do much of the same.
“I think our kids coming from Portsmouth and living in Portsmouth, we have a stigma that goes with us,” Collins said. “The opioid epidemic is everywhere, but it seems like everyone looks at Portsmouth as the epicenter of this.”
“We’ve had kids in our program that deal with chemical dependency, whether it be friends, family members, or whoever. For us to be able to help kids through situations, that’s a good thing.”
Collins has a plethora of experience dealing with the tough parts of life in the tri-state area.
“I spent 16 years in the Department of Youth Services dealing on the frontline with crime, drug abuse, physical abuse, and all of that,” Collins said. “It’s really nothing new for me, but for me to be able to take my 16 years of experience and bring it to the Portsmouth High School basketball program and be able to show kids how to cope and deal with things has just been a great ride.”
Along with his head coach, Jordan knows there are plenty of great kids by his side on the basketball court, and attending school alongside him.
“We have a good group of kids, and there’s a bunch of good kids in this school,” Jordan said. “I think that when you have leaders in school and they bring out the good in people, that’s going to help this community and this school look better.”
Jordan and Johnson are worried about the bigger picture in our communities, but also are focusing their scope in on what they can do to make Portsmouth a better place.
“It starts here,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to help influence those around us to improve an opinion as a whole in the general area.”
Eley agrees that erasing false perceptions about Portsmouth would go a long way.
“It’s very important,” Eley said. “Some people think of us as thugs, and we set out to make everyone else think different. We just try to be positive.”
The Trojans have three outstanding leaders on the basketball team, but the leadership extends far beyond the court at Portsmouth High School.
Set to make their mark, students at Portsmouth are working hard to achieve their goals and make the community and world a better place.
“We’re doing good things at Portsmouth High School,” Collins said. “A lot of times we get overlooked, and it doesn’t get noticed. We’re putting kids in the elite of the elite in state schools in Ohio, so I think hats off to our administration and our teachers because we’re doing something right.”
“Reese Johnson, who I’ve known my whole life, is getting ready to get into Ohio State. Not many people can get accepted to Ohio State, and this is two years in a row I’ve had a kid on my team who’s been accepted academically to go to Ohio State.”
As a school that has continued to cultivate future leaders, the Trojans are trying hard to bring those around them in the city up as well.
With a solid core of senior leaders playing basketball as well as attending the school, it looks as though the future is bright for Scioto County.