March Madness, East Side Style!

As Steve Politi of the Star-Ledger has pointed out, the group of high school students that made up the East Side High School Basketball team this year was “a group that decided that the road less traveled was the one to take, and that they would take it together to the old brick building on Van Buren Street in Newark,” instead of choosing to attend an exclusive private high school on a basketball scholarship. As such, we spent a lot of time in March driving all over the state watching our Red Raiders upset team after team, all the way through the state championship and to the final game of the Tournament of Champions.

A sign we made for our last home game of the season

Although we ended up coming up exactly two points short of being the first public school in nearly 20 years to win a tournament of champions trophy, you would be hard-pressed to find a Newarker that couldn’t be prouder of a team that worked so hard to get as far as they did. For as our own Jamar Gilbert has said, “growing up, you [would] only hear the bad things about Newark. We [wanted] to do something good for the city.” And doing something good for Newark is exactly what the East Side High School Boys Basketball team did in the March of 2014.

Our team. 
After basketball season was over, I was again fortunate to chaperone the East Side High School Student Council trip to colleges throughout the Northeast, including UCONN, The University of Rhode Island, and Providence College. At UCONN, I had the privilege of walking on the floor of the Gampel Pavilion, a ‘Mecca” for college basketball aficionados like myself. After leaving UCONN and taking an obligatory picture with Jonathan the Husky, we departed for Newport, R.I. for a few hours, and then proceeded to get the students all settled into the hotel. At night, I had so many great conversations with different students about just about everything you could think of from college to jobs and everything in between. To me, it is these conversations that make these trips so worth it. 

Posing with Jonathan the Husky at UCONN

The following day, we toured U.R.I. (which was another nice school) and then head over to Providence for the rest of the day. Perhaps most excitingly, at Providence, I was able to go into the student government office and I met many of the current student government officers. After telling them about some of my previous experience, it brought me right back to college; it was fun talking about student-government related issues again. I also brought two all-stars from East Side (Kevin and Austin, who are pictured below), to give them a taste of what Student Government is like at the collegiate level. To me, PC (a term I have never heard Providence referred to before this trip, but all of the students seemingly like to call it that) had a very similar vibe to my beloved Marist; needless to say, I enjoyed Providence College very much.

In the Student Government Office at ‘PC’

On the way home, we drove past Brown University quickly, and then departed back to Newark. To me, even in the stressful moments associated with taking 32 high school students on an overnight college visit, it cannot be more empowering. As I wrote on Twitter on the bus ride  home, if visiting colleges with 32 high school students doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what would.

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