On a usual Wednesday evening, at a time when most children and early adolescents are frozen in front of a computer, cellular phone or television, a small group or non-assuming warriors gather for training. The unmistakable decrescendo of multiple basketballs echoing off of the walls of the Friendly High School gym, combined with the high pitch squeak of dozens of rubber shoe soles pivoting sharply across the hardwood flooring create a form of music only truly loved and affectionately recognizable to those who have ever laced up a pair of high tops in hopes of athletic perfection.
The group of soldiers assembled on this particular evening are energetic girls who range in age from 10 to 14 years old. They are smaller in stature than the their typical male counterparts but their lack of size is compensated by an insatiable willto define athletic success not by the points on the score board, but by the unparalleled passion and gumption to achieve. Many call that attribute courage, others call it nerve, and others call it bravery or moxie. The appropriate word in this context is one that has been used to describe icons like Allen Iverson whose diminutive stature and his impoverished beginnings were overshadowed by his “tough as nails” NBA celebrity status and his “assassin” basketball mentality. Eric Thomas was once homeless and an uneducated high school dropout, but after obtaining a General Education Diploma (GED) and after the 12 years it took for him to earn a 4 year undergraduate degree, he refused to be outworked by more privileged students and he became not only one of the most sought after motivational speakers on the planet, but a person whose story book biography includes the accomplishment of a doctorate degree. One word – heart. These girls have heart.
Inside of the song of the gym, the hollow and grated baritone of the orchestrator can be heard bellowing. “I want you to mess up…that’s how you learn!”. Nicknamed “L Train” as heard by Goodman Basketball League Commissioner Miles Rawls and years later labeled as “Prime Objective” during his Rucker League basketball circuit, DC native Coach Lonnie Harrell arranges the gym’s movement. Lonnie has played in collegiate as well as professional basketball leagues and he is now founder of Team Prime Sports Club, a grassroots organization focused on developing the mind and skills of young athletes. In partnership with former University of Maryland basketball National Champion and current WNBA All Star Marissa Coleman, Lonnie has organized a brand affectionately named Lady Prime Marissa Coleman. LPMC currently consists of 5 teams that incorporate girls who are in the 4th through 9th grades and the teams compete in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), National Travel Basketball Association (NTBA), United States Basketball Association (USBA), and the League of Girls (LOG). The practices are consistently intense but Lonnie’s laid back and personable demeanor prevent the practices from feeling overwhelming. He often expresses his desire to balance to structure and discipline required to successfully compete with the top organizations, with the necessity of maintaining the intangible piece of the game that makes it fun for the girls. He offers an insight to his training mentality and his belief in the necessity of allowing the girls to make mistakes without dwelling on the outcome. “Teaching kids to focus on the process instead of outcomes also teaches them the value of delayed gratification”. The parents of these small squads of competition killers are first-hand witnesses of the girl’s physical growth as well as the undeniable development in their confidence and tenacity; traits that will serve them well in practically every circumstance when then they begin their adult lives. The girls are responsive to Lonnie and the manner in which they acknowledge him is a testament to his character. Ignorant of his collegiate and professional accolades, oblivious to the countless playground legend stories, and unaware of elite level of competition that he once dominated, the girls do not call him “L Train”, “Prime Objective”, “Mr. Harrell”, or even “Coach”. To them he is simply “Lonnie”. Unbeknownst to them and perhaps even to him, Lonnie is changing their lives forever.
-Randy Griffin (MPD)