Mr. Ozanam

I first met Darelle Porter when he and Maurice Montgomery coached my son’s AAU basketball team in high school. I was introduced to basketball when Jack was in grade school, and then on to high school and culminating in a wonderful experience with the DeJuan Blair All Stars- the AAU team. Looking at the picture above, you can see Darelle dunking on Alonzo Mourning back in the late 80s when he was a Division 1 star player at Pitt. I am an outdoors guy and basketball was foreign to me as I had never spent much time in a gym, much less know anything about basketball. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my flannel shirts and Bean boots. But I learned a lot from Darelle and Alvis Rodgers during our time up at the Ammon Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and at the various tournaments that the DeJuan Blair and the Metro team played regionally and nationally. To have a Division 1 star coach the team and give the outdoors guy instruction was special, but that is not the story I want to tell here. Darelle’s passion is kids. More than any records at Pitt, more than any times as a Division 1 coach, Darelle’s heart is with the Ozanam Program whose mission statement is ” We are committed to making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”

I first learned about Ozanam when I saw the after school basketball program up at Ammon. As executive director of Ozanam, Darelle has a lot to do coordinating after school basketball, after school homework tutoring for high school kids, dinner programs at the Rec center, and a general care for the welfare of kids entering a critical time in their lives. There are many ” make it or break it” moments in the inner city and kids can easily be steered in the wrong direction. The Ozanam After School Program makes it possible for kids to learn in a friendly environment, enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and get expert instruction on homework or applying for college scholarships and admissions.

The impressive thing about Darelle is that as busy as he is, he personally handles all the training on the court with all the kids in the program. His passion is kids and basketball and he is there every day, after school, and in the summer promoting skill development and team work along with Alvis Rodgers and Karen Hall who was a former U.N.L.V. star and NCAA Div 1 coach.

The grade school programs are generally centered around the Rec center and as the kids move on to high school, Darelle makes a point to take groups to college campuses and cultural events throughout the east. He is one busy person but the smile on his face leads one to believe that he really enjoys his work and has a passion for the physical and educational welfare of the children and young adults that he serves.

On a personal note, I got Darelle and Maurice involved volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh and both the AAU Team and the Ozanam After School Program became involved serving meals to the families of the children who were getting critical care at Children’s Hospital. Darelle and the Ozanam ASP still are involved and enjoying Darelle’s Italian Ice which he brings to every event. He has a side business selling Italian Ice all through the city at different venues and his stands are manned by kids in the Ozanam Program. The energy that he brings is amazing and the value of a job for the kids is not lost on the community.

As I learned from our involvement in basketball, there is a lot more to it than just the game. Coaches like Darelle, Maurice, Alvis Rodgers-another Div 1 standout at Wake Forest, and Karen are inspirational. It is not just about winning and losing. It is all about team work, personal development, family gatherings and discussions at the tournaments, and binding people together. In this day and age, programs like AAU and the Ozanam Center bring unity and not division. People like Darelle make a difference and devote their lives to a higher cause.

Ozanam needs your help. To continue to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve, financial help is needed. If you would like to participate, you can log on to and make a donation. Programs like this are extremely valuable and need to be supported by the community. People like Darelle need to keep up the good work that they do. Ozanam makes a difference. You can too. Thanks for reading.

Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

The DeJuan Blair All Stars

photo For those of you who know me and those of you who know me through the blog, you know that I am an outdoors guy. I ski, hike, ride mountain and road bikes, showshoe, all things outdoors- all the time. I had my son Jack up on a pair of skis at 2&1/2 and on a bike by age 4. I had visions of Jack, Janet and me spending our lives together as an active, outdoors family. Imagine my surprise when in the 5th grade, he started shooting basketballs at my in-laws carport with lessons from my ex-hoopster father in law and my mother in law who was the consumate cheerleader. He came to me and said that he wanted to play basketball. I said,” Basketball? Basketball?” ” We don’t do basketball, we are an outdoors family- we ski in the winter.” My lovely wife gave me a look that said all too clearly that,” its not about you big guy, it is about him and what he wants to do with his friends.

Well, being the obsessive compulsive person that I am, I got him involved with the Eden Christian Academy grade school team.In addition, I talked to Ernie Kuysner, the Adidas Rep, that we met at the Y who got us involved in AAU Basketball and Daryn Freedman- Basketball Stars of America We were on our way and Janet and I never missed a practice or a game. Fast forward, and now we are involved with North Allegheny High School freshman and JV ball and still with BSA which has proven to be a great experience. There is a bit of a riff I have discovered between high school coaches and AAU coaches. High School coaches believe that AAU is unstructured and emphasises the individual instead of regimented team play. But all the college coaches come to AAU tournaments to view top college prospects so you can come to your own conclusion. Suffice to say that the tournanments were a lot of fun with interesting parents and well coached teams. The travel as a family was really the best for me. People asked me if I trained Jack and I always say,” I can’t even dribble. I am an outdoors guy – remember.”

Well at the beginnning of last season after JV ball was over, we were playing our first tournament with a BSA team when Jack drained 11 three point shots in a row against a Maryland team. There was a team on the sidelines who were watching him and from that moment on, they kept texting him and asking him to play for their team- the DeJuan Blair All Stars. This team is an inner-city team named after the former Pitt player and current San Antonio Spurs star. As it turned out, one of the coaches is Darelle Porter who played for Pitt and coached DeJuan as a young boy. His son DJ is on the team and is a legitimate D-I college prospect. Maurice Montgomery is the head coach and called Jack and asked him to play. Well circumstances played out and the next thing we know, Jack is wearing the black and silver of the DB squad at the King James Tournament in Cleveland.

This was a whole different experience for us but the family of DB was very welcoming and easy going. Honestly, I didn’t have much reference with city kids and parents and this came as a welcome surprise to me with their friendly and welcoming demeanor. As it turned out, we had a great season which culminated in the Nationals in Orlando,Fl. The boys finished 10th out of 114 teams in AAU Division II. Division I is the tournament where all the kids going to Duke,NC, Pitt, etc. play and D-II is all the rest which is pretty competitive seeing that teams qualify from all over the country for both tournaments. But this is not the story I want to tell.

Jack had some great coaching along the way and learned life lessons from guys like Pete Strobl and Steve Brodzinski Along with Daryn Freedman, these guys taught Jack the importance of commitment to a sport and to a team. That is what impressed me as I learned more about basketball. I still don’t know jack about most of basketball, but I am learing and listening to these guys. I learned a lot about many aspects of team sports and sportsmanship. When we met up with Maurice and Darelle, they continued on this path and got the boys involved in community service like Ronald McDonald House Charities. The boys serve meals and interact with the children who are waiting on life saving operations from UPMC-Children’s Hospital. Their stories touched the hearts of our coaches and their commitment to RMHC as “their team” has been commendable and has taught the boys that service is most important in this world.

The DB family is not all about fun and basketball games. These folks work very hard to give their kids the opportunity to play basketball at a high level with great personal sacrifice. There have been tough experiences,for example, with kids who have lost their fathers to manslaughter and have been raised by hard working single moms. Others who have had a myriad of personal and financial difficulties but manage to keep a smile on their face as they see their sons compete and succeed. You learn a lot about people when you see them under stress but the thing about the DB family is that they are loving and helpful even under dire personal struggles. When Janet and I found out about the Nationals last year, we learned that 26 people would be staying in one house. We wondered how all of that was going to work but with kids all over the floors at night, constant trips to the grocery store, running back and forth between games, cooking, cleaning, it was one of the best weeks that we have ever spent in our lives. We can’t wait to go back and do it again for the last time seeing that U-17 is the last age group for AAU.

Perhaps the best lessons learned through DB and basketball in general were learned by me. You can’t live vicariously through your children and you have to let them grow without interference. Jack will be 18 soon and the days of me really telling him what to do are over. I have to let him experience life as a man and if he asks for advice I will give it in the best loving way that I can but not until he asks. We have had our ups and downs with basketball but for the most part what I have experienced is 30 percent basketball and 70 percent life lessons and relationships created. When that last basket is made at the Nationals this July(swish- nothing but net), this outdoors guy will shed a tear or two. I am not sure what lies ahead for Jack and basketball but if the DB experience is the end of the trail, he has had a great run and he, his mother and I will move on to the next adventures in life. As usual, we will be watching from the bleachers, but we will see a young man mature and grow into the man that God created him to be. The game of life is next and we can’t wait to see the score. Thanks for reading.