YOUNGSTOWN — Randy Nuby recently retired from coaching sports such as basketball and football to devote more time to his landscaping business and his grandkids.
But several months ago, after violence in Youngstown spiked, he heard the “whisper” of God urging him to get back in the game.
“I started thinking about all of the violence that’s going on,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ God basically has been whispering in my ear: ‘You’ve got to do something.’”
“So I said I’m going to create a program for kids 19 and over that are just out of high school who need direction. They need mentorship, they need somebody to push them in the right direction and make positive decisions,” he said.
That is when the Respect Basketball League of Youngstown started to take shape.
“I was sitting back thinking we needed to do something to get the kids off the street, to educate them and get them vocational skills and also provide basketball, so I came up with this scenario,” Newby said.
He and his team consisting of Sabrina Jones of the Academy for Urban Scholars, Shimmy Miller and Len Carter, had discussions with Eastern Gateway Community College and the Central YMCA of Youngstown. The reason for involving the community college and scholars is that basketball would only be a part of the league. The other part is vocational training, help in writing resumes and other educational information.
“If a kid needs a GED, we are going to make sure he gets his GED. If a kid is having trouble with domestic violence, we are going to get him help, get him training in anger management, drugs and alcohol (treatment), how to deal with situations with the police, situations that build skills, such as job skills, training skills, communications skills,” Nuby said.
“Basketball is secondary,” he said.
The Youngstown Police Department and its new chief, Carl Davis, also got involved.
Malik Mostolla, community liaison officer with the police department, is a coach, and Guy Burney, executive director of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence for Youngstown, is on the basketball league’s board and is coordinating the league between Nuby’s team and the police department.
Nuby put out information on social media to invite young people ages 19 to 25 to sign up. The city had a successful midnight basketball program about six years ago run by the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority, so the idea was not foreign to the city.
“They were a major sponsor, and it was great,” Nuby said of the earlier program.
The league started up a week ago and held its second weekend of vocational training and games Saturday.
“Everything went pretty smooth,” Nuby said of the first trainings and games a week ago. “We had good instructors there. The youth were focused on the training. They were asking questions, and I was really impressed with the training process.
“Most of the kids you would think just want to come in there and play basketball and be out of there. But we had so much positive stuff going on. The instructors really tied into what we were trying to do,” he said.
The league consists of 18 teams with 12 young adults on each team. They will play for eight weeks at the YMCA. Then there will be a tournament. All of the teams will be eligible. The tournament will have a final four and a championship game, which is projected to be at the Covelli Centre, Nuby said.
The second-place team will get trophies, and the championship team will get trophies and awards. Eastern Gateway is providing four trade-school scholarships.
D’Aundray Brown, Youngstown Central YMCA sports and recreational director, has been a key partner in the basketball league. He is a Youngstown Ursuline graduate who played basketball in high school and at Cleveland State University, then for the G-League Canton Charge, an affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I think basketball and sport in general goes parallel with how life is,” Brown said. “You are taught how to be on a team, leadership, how to be a servant leader, accountability. Your coach, if you have a good one, holds you accountable.
“Through the sport, I have gotten a lot of positive role models who taught me all of those things,” he said. He created the DreDay Foundation that he carries out with his father, Aundra Brown, who played basketball at Youngstown State University, to be positive influences and role models in the community.
Some of the teams in the Respect Basketball League have a few open spots that someone could fill, but the schedule of games is set, and they can’t add any teams, Nuby said.
Nuby has been working with kids for 30 years. “I used to be the athletic director for the Youngstown Boys Club. I coached Youngstown East football,” he said.
He also coached basketball at Chaney High School and Campbell Memorial High School and ran a seventh- and eighth-grade intramural program for the Youngstown City Schools for a couple of years recently.
Nuby said he believes the reason young people in Youngstown get into trouble is insufficient positive activities for them.
“The main problem is these kids don’t have anything to do,” he said. “They don’t care, and they don’t care about life.”
He said they respond “once you inject some mentorship into them and give them some positive things to do and show you care and put multiple opportunities on the table — such as training, employment.”
“This will be a good opportunity for people like me to stay off the streets,” said Alex Jones, 21, one of the participants. “They’re helping us find jobs. This is a lot bigger opportunity than people realize.”
Scott Brush, who owns the Express Employment Professionals employment agency in Youngstown, provided the pizza for Saturday’s training and games and will be providing employment assistance to the participants.
He said the company Astro Shapes in Struthers is hiring for 75 jobs alone, and the agency is working to fill 225 job openings right now, none of which are minimum wage.
Some of the teams were able to practice together before the games started. Some did not, but the Youngstown City School District has agreed to allow teams to practice at three middle-school gymnasiums. Even during the practices, there will be vocational training, Nuby said.
Anyone needing more information on the league can call Brown at the YMCA at 330-744-8411, Ext. 131.