Ten-year-old Jeffrey Miller was not a basketball player. In fact, he didn’t understand the game. Undeterred by her son's most vehement protests, Jeffrey’s mother signed him up for the Marblehead town league, which is made up of 5th and 6th graders.
She was optimistic that the experience would teach her son a thing or two. Joanne Miller underestimated the life-altering impact of two Marblehead coaches--Gordon Vincent and David Frontero.
“Gordon Vincent and David Frontero, together, epitomized what is most positive and enriching about the experience of being on a team,” said Miller. “They brought together a group of kids with different skill sets and made every member of the team love each game and each practice.”
It took some time for Jeffrey to buy in. He wanted to quit, even after the first meeting with the coaches. “We sat in a circle and discussed how many years we did basketball. And I said zero--this was my first,” Jeffrey recalled.
Miller explained to the coaches that it was her son's inexperience and lack of understanding of the game that made him want to quit. He didn’t know the difference between offense and defense.
“The coaches responded immediately and began a quest to help Jeffrey learn about the game and grow to love it. Jeffrey came home from each practice completely enthralled with his new favorite game,” Miller said.
The two Marblehead coaches took Jeffrey under their wing, encouraging him, and taking extra time with him. “They even met him before practice to offer individual instruction,” Miller said, still astounded at the attention paid to her son.
The consistent emphasis on "team" paid off. "We stressed that basketball is a team sport and we were all in this together," said Frontero. "I think Jeffrey found some comfort in that approach."
According to Frontero, the coaches had four goals:
1) Everyone would play about the same amount of time and get better together
2) Everyone would score a point before the season was over.
3) Everyone would have fun.
4) We would win some games and lose some games, but strive to win more than we lost .
Vincent and Frontero worked hard with the rest of the players to get the ball into Jeffrey’s hands. Soon enough, his confidence began to grow, as did his love for the game.
"It was amazing and when Jeffrey made his first basket-- the whole gym erupted with cheers! It was a team effort and so glorious to watch! Those coaches saw this little guy that didn't know the first thing about basketball and they went to heroic lengths to assure that he would not only love it, but that he would have the best experience of his life,” Miller said.
Vincent recalls that precise moment--and the reaction from his teammates. “They were legitimately thrilled for him, and the cheering from our bench when his shot went through the hoop was the loudest it had been all year,” he said. “A lot of times in a team setting, kids develop cliques based on what grade they're in, athletic ability, previous friendships, whatever. This team didn't have any of that. We had kids who were playing in their fourth MYBA season who accepted and encouraged the players who weren't as experienced. Their willingness to work together as a team is a testament to their character. We were able to do a lot of different things on the court because these kids were so coachable, some of what we did strategically was based on their suggestions. I truly enjoyed every minute I spent with this group of kids, and I've not always been able to say that at the end of a season.”
The Hawks handily exceeded their goals, finishing with the third best regular season record, roaring through the playoffs to make it into the Championship game. The final game was close--and Jeffrey Miller was fouled. It was his turn to show what he had learned. When he took the first shot and it didn’t go in, Jeffrey vividly recalls what happened next. "The coach pulled me over and told me that I could do it." Jeffrey Miller smiles before continuing, "And... I did."
Jeffrey Miller made that next shot, and while the Championship ultimately eluded the Hawks--Coaches Gordon Vincent, Dave Frontero and each member of the team came up big winners.
Words Coach David Frontero lives by:
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Wayne Gretzky