Monday, February 16, 2009

Basketball Is A Bond For Students At Juanita Sanchez High School

Nice story here about the boys and girls basketball teams at Juanita Sanchez High School in Providence, via High School Game Time:

The Juanita Sanchez boys are fighting for a playoff berth in the Division III basketball tournament next month, while the Sanchez girls wind down their second consecutive season without a victory.

But a visitor to the dual school complex on Thurbers Avenue would never know the difference. Brenda Reyes and Joseilys Portes, seniors who have not won a game since they were sophomores, were just as excited about their basketball as Kirby Verlus, a senior on the boys team who started in the playoffs last year and expects to do the same in a little more than two weeks.

The Sanchez boys were 7-8 overall and 6-6 and fifth in Division III heading into their game with first-place Central Falls (14-2, 11-1) on Friday night. The girls were 0-14 overall, 0-11 in Division III, before their home finale Friday afternoon against Davies.

But basketball is more than winning and losing for these kids.

“We’re like a family,” Reyes said late last week. “We’re always learning how to work with people. Everybody loves to play and have fun.”

Basketball has taught Portes the value of teamwork and accepting the responsibility of coming to practice on time and playing hard. Basketball has provided senior Dekontee Azzam, a hoop rookie, with a team experience.

“It’s not about winning games all the time,” she said.

Verlus joined the Cavaliers’ boys halfway through the 2008 season and made such an impression that he is captain this season. He attended Del Sesto High for two years and played basketball for Mount Pleasant because Del Sesto did not have a team. When Del Sesto closed, he transferred to the William B. Cooley Health, Science and Technology High School in the Juanita Sanchez Complex. The Providence Academy of International Studies occupies the other wing of the complex.

“I heard this is a good school, and I knew they had a basketball team,” Verlus said. “I like the school. It’s not too big. Everybody knows everybody and is friendly.”

The Juanita Sanchez Complex, named for the Hispanic community leader who died in 1992 at the age of 39, opened in September 2003. Willie Washington, the former Central High and Rhode Island Junior College star and a resource specialist, directed a club basketball program that first year. In 2004, Steve Nadeau, the former St. Raphael football star and a special-education teacher in the Providence system, became the first coach of the boys varsity and is still calling the plays.

The Cavaliers won the 2007 Division III championship and reached the semifinals in 2008. This has been a rebuilding year, and Nadeau has started four sophomores with Verlus.

“We’re having some fun. We’ve had to teach them everything,” Nadeau said of assistant coach Kristen McCall and himself. Verlus said he was helping the young players just as the seniors last year taught him.

“It’s like kindergarten sometimes,” he said with a smile.

Sophomore Ramon Quinonez (16.8 points per game) is the leading scorer, followed by sophomore Malcolm Scott (12.9), Verlus (9.9) and sophomores Kevin Hernandez (7.6) and Angel Candelier (7.4).

The Sanchez girls made the playoffs in their second year and earned a sportsmanship award in 2007 but have struggled since. The team is playing this winter because Dan DeCataldo, a teacher, and Ricky Bozzer, the boys cross-country and baseball coach, stepped in at Thanksgiving and volunteered to coach. They held tryouts, 30 girls showed up, and 26 remain, split evenly between varsity and junior varsity.

DeCataldo and Bozzer had to start with the basics.

“At the beginning, everybody seemed lost and out of position. No one knew how to dribble. We didn’t know where to go,” Portes said. Azzam had no skills at the start of this season, DeCataldo said, but now she “dribbles with both hands, anticipates and makes steals.”

“I’m really happy with the team as a whole. I feel we’re becoming better,” Azzam said.

Reyes recalled her struggle as a backup point guard last year and said that she was more determined this year and understood that “I have teammates to help me.”

Team defense improved, but scoring remains a problem. Sanchez has scored 20 points twice, a 57-26 loss to Central on Dec. 29 and a 44-21 loss at South Boston on Feb. 9, and managed only five points against Fatima on Dec. 18 and two at Mount Pleasant on Jan. 6. But the Cavaliers outscored Hope, 12-10, in the second half of a 27-18 loss on Feb. 10 and were proud.

These girls have overcome more than a lack of ability to play basketball. Reyes dealt with family issues early in the season. Portes juggles a job at Wendy’s with dribbles at Sanchez. And Azzam was on the verge of quitting basketball to keep her job in the dietary office at Rhode Island Hospital. “I didn’t want to quit the team, but I needed that job,” she said. In the end, her supervisors worked with her, and now she plays basketball, works at the hospital and still takes Advanced Placement courses.

The best news from these four Sanchez seniors? Each plans to attend college.
More: High School

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