By CRYSTAL LEWIS BROWN, The Fort Jackson LeaderMay 21, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Chelsa Thompson, a program assistant with Child, Youth and School Service's Youth Sports and Fitness division, said she remembers picking up a basketball for the first time at 3 years old.
When her husband was assigned to Fort Jackson last year, she decided to bring the sport she loves to her new job.
"When I first started, I saw a lot of interest in basketball," she said. "My idea was to start a team and see if the guys wanted to play other garrisons."
She said she got on the phone and contacted "everybody" to find some teams who were interested in playing her newly formed team.
One year and several phone calls later, the Fort Jackson Troopz is making a name for itself locally, and at other garrisons.
Team captain Joey McLemore, 18, said the team's name, Troopz, is a nod to the players' military affiliation.
"Everybody who is on the team (has) parents in the military," he said.
The team, which comprises boys 15-18, recently finished a season with the Christian Basketball League, where it took on players 18-24 years old. The team finished the season 6-4.
Though the team was initially intimidated by the age gap, Thompson said, they quickly adjusted.
I was ready for the challenge," said Tacorey Washington, 16.
His teammate, Kenny Cooper, 17 - who also serves as team co-captain - agreed.
"When it comes to playing people our own age ... it's going to be kind of easy," Cooper said.
They said they also got some flack from the older players.
"Most people think that just because we're little, we're going to be easy," Washington said.
Cooper added, "When we start playing, it's a shock."
The team has also played several other local groups, including various teams with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands.
Though the team's main focus is playing basketball, Thompson said she wants to teach the Troopz more than just the game.
"I don't just want to focus on basketball. I want to give back to the community," she said.
The team has done that by writing to Soldiers who are deployed overseas.
Although Fort Jackson is a training installation, Thompson said she - and her team - know that deployments are a real possibility for many of those now at Fort Jackson.
"Once they get out of training, a lot of (the Soldiers) are going straight to Iraq or Afghanistan," she said. "We wanted to reach out to them and let them know we are thinking about them. If it weren't for them, our home wouldn't be as safe as it is."
Craig Plowman, Youth Sports and Fitness director, said the basketball team is a welcome addition to the center's offerings.
"We used to have teams here back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s in that age group," he said.
At that time, there was an on-post league, he said. But as more families moved off post, the numbers dwindled. Thompsons's initiative, he said, is filling a need.
"It gives the kids an opportunity to work on their skills. It gives them an outlet," he said. "If they want to try out for their high school team, this is a good chance to work on their skills ... and to also have fun."
Though the CBL season is over, the Troopz is just getting started. The team's summer season runs March through August, and the team will play against Fort Stewart at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Youth Services Center.
Thompson said she is looking forward coaching the team many years to come.
"The first year was tough, but I've gotten a strong relationship with the guys," she said. "I'm not just a coach, I've been a friend, I've tried to be a mentor.
"This for them. I'm there for them."
Plowman added, "It gives them an opportunity to do what they love, and that's play basketball."