Some say Denver is a great city because we have the Broncos and the Rockies. Others boast that Denver is great because we have the Stock Show, Coors Field or the Pepsi Center and the Democratic Convention. Still others opine that Denver’s greatness comes from our banks and great corporations - economic engines which drive the financial machinery of our city.
Friday, August 8th, 2009, I saw the greatness of our city up close and in your face.
John Bailey invited me to his Basketball Camp with Chauncey Billups at Denver’s Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center in Northeast Denver.
I got there just in time to hear John and the other coaches lining up the hundreds of kids to do their warm-ups prior to basketball practices. Most of the kids are from Northeast Denver, but many are from other parts of the city. He was not there Friday, but Simon Peter O’Hanlon who grew up playing city basketball in Northeast Park Hill, said John Bailey’s program gets petitions from parents from the suburbs so their kids can learn the ‘in your face, rough and tumble’ inner city Northeast Denver style that only Bailey and company can evoke from fledgling ball players. John barks out orders like an army drill sergeant, and the kids quickly, dutifully and obediently get in line and follow his orders because underneath the gruff exterior, the kids know John really cares about them. The kids know he cares about how well they are going to improve their game, but down deeper he challenges the kids to “know themselves” and stretch their limitations in challenging their own limits. The lessons learned on the court at Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center last Friday will help each of them with all of life’s challenges down the line. That’s what the ancient Greeks said the purpose of education itself was: “Know thyself.”
Denver’s own, Chauncey Billups, Most Valuable Player in the 2004 National Basketball Association playoffs, and Denver Nugget champion, easily and gracefully led the students in their stretching exercises and they all eagerly followed this great rolemodel. Then John introduced the younger assistant coach and knew every one by name. The participants enthusiastically applauded the good work of the coaches. The coaches knew John cared about them as much as the kids involved in the program. Then the players and coaches divided up into working units and marched out to the ball courts with temporary basketball hoops distributed evenly on the ten courts.
I was standing in the doorway trying to see everything, and Coach Frank Merritt waved me to come and stand next to him in the shade closer to the courts so I could see better. He is a big bear of a man with a serious exterior but a welcoming and jovial heart. So I stood next to him, as I did last year, and we watched the morning’s excitement. Every time a kid passed by, “Hi, Coach Frank,” they would say. He knew every one of those kids by name. He could tell you all about them. Talk about building confidence in a student. I met Chauncey briefly and mentioned I taught with Lonnie Porter, legendary basketball coach for Regis, for many years at Regis University. I told Chauncey that whenever I had a basketball player in my class, Lonnie would call from time to time to see if he was attending class, and how was he doing. It’s that same caring and attention to individual players that I saw from Chauncey, John Bailey and Coach Frank which generates an over 95% graduation rate among Regis ball players. And the players in my classes knew Coach Porter cared about them and their performance now, in my class, and in the future.
That day, John Bailey, Chauncey Billups and Coach Frank Merritt shared their love of competition and zest for life with their students at the Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center. Simon Peter O’Hanlon, who wasn’t there Friday, told me long ago that John Bailey has saved kid’s lives with the program he runs at Davis Recreation Center. And all things considered, that’s why Denver is a great city.