Forever Dedicated 64 Fitness

Stroudsburg Herald
Photo by Steffen Blanco

By Steffen Blanco

"Basketball is a game played between two teams of five players in which goals are scored by throwing a ball through a netted hoop fixed above each end of the court."
Photo by Steffen Blanco

As I get out of my car, I quickly glance at my phone and note that it's 9:00 AM, Sunday morning. Right on time. Most people are still sleeping at this time, trying to rest up before another busy week. Usually, that's me, but not today. Today, I have the pleasure of watching Forever Dedicated 64 Fitness train and develop the future of youth basketball in the Pocono Mountains.

I walk into The Mountain Center and I immediately hear the sound of music and the squeaks of sneakers on the gym floor. In the middle of the gymnasium, a group of kids, ranging from ages 7 to 18, was doing warmups. Coach Alex "Swish" Malone's wife and mother to one of the players, Sumaya Malone, came out to greet me along with some of the other coaches.

After a few introductions, she asked me whether I needed anything or if I preferred to start the interview. Instead of going right for the questions, I decided to observe the group first, just as I did with my last assignment with the Pocono Prancers. This allows me to see how the group operates, and the questions will come more naturally.
Photo by Steffen Blanco

I pulled out my camera and began to walk around the gym, picking and choosing my shots as the kids warmed up. A few of them were curious about me, but I did my best not to distract them (Especially since a few other kids ended up doing push-ups due to not paying attention).
Photo by Steffen Blanco
Photo by Steffen Blanco

I observed as these kids did some memorable exercises that you all should remember from gym class back in the day.
Photo by Steffen Blanco
Photo by Steffen Blanco
Photo by Steffen Blanco

After about an hour or so of warmups, they begin their ball drills.
Photo by Steffen Blanco
Photo by Steffen Blanco
Photo by Steffen Blanco

During ball drills, I found the time to pull a few of the coaches to the side to ask some questions.

Steffen: So what is the purpose of the Forever Dedicated 64 Fitness?

Coach Skillz: We're here to help these kids grow and develop as players by giving them the opportunity for practice and playtime outside of their regular team hours.

Steffen: So are all of these kids on a travel or school team?

Coach Skillz: Most of them are, and the ones that aren't, we try to help them find those teams or even help create the team.

Steffen: So how old is the organization? Why did you ultimately decide to do it?

Coach Skillz: We've been doing this since 2017. There was a need for it, a lot of the team coaches were asking for more, and these kids didn't have that place to get that more. We (the coaches) decided to put our heads together and create this program that takes care of the fundamentals and essentials. That way, when they go to these teams, they (the players) can simply go up to the coach and ask, "Where do you need me?". These kids are 4th quarter ready.

Steffen: Do you have kids of your own?

Coach Skillz: I have four kids, two of whom are older and help me coach, and then a younger daughter and a son who are enrolled.

Steffen: So, do you do any tournaments or events?

Coach Swish: We do a free tournament in the summer called "Never Nervous Basketball League." It's over here at Tobyhanna Park. It's a free tournament for kids in high school or junior high.

Steffen: How did your organization navigate through COVID?

Coach Skillz: We used a lot of videos and zoom to give the kids the assistance and tips they needed. We used Youtube, Instagram, and a communication app that we use a lot to let them know when and if we're able to link up.

Steffen: This is all volunteer-based, right?

Coach Skillz: Yes, so all the coaches dedicate their time to this on the weekends. Then, we have a couple of people locked in that help us give what we need to the community. It's all out of love. The love for the game, and we love these kids. We love to see the spark of success in these kids' eyes, and when things click in their heads, there's nothing like it.

Time flew by quickly as I noticed that two hours had passed by already. They say that time flies when you're having fun and even though I was only observing, I was having a great time just watching these kids practice. The determination and attentiveness to their craft were inspiring to witness, especially from kids at such a young age.

I'll never forget this little girl dribbling up and down the court and doing each and every one of the exercises with the resolve of an adult.

Photo by Steffen Blanco

The unsung champions of this story are the coaches, all of whom welcomed me to their space with open arms. Thank you to you all for volunteering your time and weekends to develop these young men and women in a constructive and fun way. Be sure to check out Forever Dedicated 64 Fitness and support their league in the summer.
Photo by Steffen Blanco

Tony Walker, aka Coach Walker
Photo by Steffen Blanco

Alex Malone, aka Coach Swish
Photo by Steffen Blanco

James Ford, aka Coach Skillz

**Not pictured is Al Heyward aka Coach Al**

Kobe Quote:

"Those times when you get up early, and you work hard, those times when you stay up late, and you work hard, those times when you don't feel like working, you're too tired, you don't want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream. That's the dream. It's not the destination. It's the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you'll see happen is you won't accomplish your dreams, your dreams won't come true; something greater will." - Kobe Bryant 2017 Number Retirement Speech

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