In a time when there’s much discussion about building walls, two middle school basketball teams showed us how to build bridges.
On the heels of a disappointing defeat of Gateway Middle’s girls’ basketball team, the Gateway boys and the players from The Nahed Chapman New American Academy took the court to warm up. While the Gateway players executed complicated drills and practiced free throws, five boys dressed in green soccer jerseys warmed up for their school’s first ever basketball game.
The New American players stood directly underneath the basket and practiced passing and taking shots, many of which did not even hit the rim.
The Nahed Chapman New American Academy is where immigrant children and teenagers start their St. Louis school career. Students are immersed in an English language program and then sent to other SLPS schools when their English is deemed ready. The school’s population changes as students are transitioned in and out, but currently there are more than 400 students at the school many of whom have arrived this year from Syria.
This is the first year that the New American Academy has ever had an athletics program. This fall they received a donation of a soccer field as a St. Louis welcome project and soccer uniforms from the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club. The New American Academy won fourth place in the district’s championship tournament. While many of the New Academy students had played soccer in their home countries, basketball was a new endeavor for these athletes.
Of the five boys on the New American team, one is a refugee from Syria and two are brothers from Somalia, both are countries included in last week’s executive order suspending immigration from “terror prone regions.”
As the team bravely took the court for their first ever game, onlookers were reminded how much courage these kids already must have had to even make it from their home countries to St. Louis. The game started off with 15 unanswered points by the Jaguars when the momentum of the game suddenly changed. The refs stopped keeping score, and the Gateway cheerleaders stopped cheering on the Jaguars.
Gateway fans began cheering on the New American Academy students. Signs reading, “welcome new students” and “everyone is welcomed here no matter what Trump says” were hurriedly scribbled by Gateway students and proudly displayed. The cheerleaders switched sides, and made up new cheers singing “G-r-e-e-n go fight fight win!”
While the Jaguars might not have played their hardest, they displayed their best selves as they encouraged the other team, cheering as each member of the New American Academy made a basket. The Gateway “Tiger” moms, channeled their fierce protective instinct towards the new Americans. In the stands, they loudly advised the “Green” team, and scolded their sons when they played defense too aggressively.
As a rule of thumb, basketball is very competitive in St. Louis Public Schools. The boys can barely stand being behind, let alone losing a game. But in this instance, by the time the final buzzer sounded no one was keeping score, and everyone won.