The second annual Martha’s Vineyard Boat to the Basket youth basketball showcase Saturday taught kids about substance use disorder, addiction, and peer pressure by using athletics as an overarching metaphor.
In basketball, your teammates are your support system, and your coach is the first person you talk to if you are struggling, according to chair of the Boat to the Basket board of directors, Leah Brown.
But these connections aren’t just valuable on the court — Brown said many aspects of being successful in competitive team sports also translate to success in life. This is particularly true when talking about drug use and addiction. “We always try to stress to the teams that your teammates are your support system. If you are in a situation where you are being peer-pressured to take a pill, a drug, or whatever, you can always look to your team for protection and support,” Brown said.
This year, a dozen teams from across the Cape and Islands traveled to the basketball courts at Niantic Park in Oak Bluffs for the friendly and educational tournament.
According to Brown, the key to this year’s tournament was to recruit teams from diverse backgrounds with players in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade.
“We feel that is the most important age to affect someone so they aren’t getting involved in drugs,” Brown said. “This is where they are going to get the most peer pressure, this is where they are trying to develop who they are as people and as members of society.”
For the tournament, two teams of student athletes go head-to-head while the third team that isn’t playing meets with a group of people who speak to them on how to prevent drug use and addiction. “We call it courtside chats. We had a whole division over here where when players were in between games they were speaking with someone about substance use disorder, peer pressure, or just life in general,” Brown said.
During lunchtime, the entire group of teams heard from a keynote speaker, the Rev. Scott Alexander, who spoke on the importance of finding positive outlets in life like sports, music, arts, religion, or anything that provides purpose, pride, and enjoyment.
Brown said Alexander also spoke on the importance of kids having trusted adult role models that they can talk to openly, ask questions, and share their concerns. “The coaches are these kids’ role models. They coach these kids out of the goodness of their own heart, because they truly love these children and only want the best for them,” Brown said.
She said statistics prove that being involved in athletics or another team dynamic can add value to young peoples’ lives, and teach them important life skills that allow them to be more successful as an adult.
“You learn about competition, you learn about teamwork, you learn about tenacity, coming from below and rising up — every day these coaches are teaching these kids life skills through the game of basketball,” Brown said. “It’s very easy to feel alone when you are going through these things in life, but you’re not alone. You have a whole team that cares about you and wants you to succeed.”
Isabella Heredia, a public relations and communications intern with Boat to the Basket, said the Island during the winter is extremely isolated, and many people turn to drugs because they don’t have another positive, healthy outlet to get involved in. “I have done some interviews with people who have been personally affected by the opioid crisis, so I have listened to their testimonies and stories,” Heredia said. “I’ve heard mothers talking about their sons dying from this, and it’s just been really eye-opening.”
Heredia hopes the student athletes that participate in the tournament come away with the understanding that they can reach out to their coaches or teammates any time they need help, or are feeling uncomfortable or pressured.
The coaches tell their team, “You all have my number, if you are ever in a situation or are at a party and your friends are peer-pressuring you, you can make some sort of excuse like you have practice tomorrow. Call someone to come and pick you up, and get away from that environment,” Heredia said. “It teaches you to remove yourself from that situation, or to help someone else who is in that situation.”
One important part of combating drug use and addiction, according to Heredia, is always having a trusted adult to turn to.
And if a kid sees something they are concerned about and wants to report it, they shouldn’t be afraid to tell an adult role model in their lives.
“You’re not a tattletale, you’re not a snitch — whether it’s a friend or family member who might be using drugs or addicted, you have what is best for them in mind,” Heredia said.
For kids, finding something they are passionate about (even if it’s not a team sport) can provide a system of support, and can bolster confidence in other areas of their lives. “Some people have team sports, and for other people it’s drama, photography, or writing poetry; whatever you are really interested in that makes you happy,” Heredia said.