PROVIDENCE — There was more than basketball going on inside the Pizzitola Center Saturday night.
Labeling it a local success story doesn’t seem to paint the entire picture, though you could make a strong argument based on the three lads hailing from Central Falls on Lyndon State’s roster – certainly a rare occurrence. A homecoming? The three ex-Warrior hoopsters are all first-year college players, meaning they haven’t been in the hinterlands of Vermont long enough to be jarred loose from our memory banks.
For what Saturday brought was a chance for Rob Alers, Antonio Mena and George Carle to say “thank you” to the support staff that had been in their corner and to put on record and show to the rest of the state that, yes, worthwhile stories can have roots in Central Falls.
“They are the best we have in Central Falls,” lauded C.F. head coach Brian Crookes some 45 minutes before the opening tap between Brown and Lyndon State. “They had goals, and they went out and made it happen.”
Perhaps more importantly, Saturday demonstrated to youngsters in Central Falls and the surrounding area that if you follow the straight and narrow path, which Alers, Mena and Carle clearly did, then you too can avoid becoming another sad statistic in a city that’s been dragged through the cross-hairs for some time now.
The negative barrage includes underperforming schools, receivership and bad debt. In addition there’s talk of splintering Central Falls and forcing its burdens upon the cities and towns sharing its borders. There’s not much in the way of good news flowing out of the square-mile city these days.
“I don’t think there are a whole lot of people in the country who didn’t know about this situation,” said Lyndon State head coach Joe Krupinski, no doubt referring to last March when President Obama singled out Central Falls High School as an underperforming school.
This is where Alers, Mena and Carle come into focus. They don’t represent what’s wrong with Central Falls. Hardly. What the trio represents is living proof that hard work coupled with listening to those taking the time to guide you in the right direction can bear fruit. In their case, it’s taking that basketball dream that’s in the palm of their hands and acting it out in real life.
“We would hear about how our test scores are low and all that,” said Alers, standing in the hallway after scoring 10 points in Brown’s wire-to-wire 88-55 win against its opponent from upper New England. “We were able to keep it all behind us, win (the Division III championship last March), graduate and go to college. It’s just a great feeling.”
“Without basketball, I think I would have failed,” states Mena, not a hint of hesitation in his voice.
“Basketball is a way for us to get out and keep our minds on school,” added Carle, who transferred from URI after graduating from Central Falls in 2009. “That’s what Rob, Antonio and myself had to deal with.”
As Crookes notes, Mena, Alers and Carle, “had adults in their lives who took an interest and cared about what was best for them. There were people invested in them, and that’s what good teachers do.” The notion that it takes a village to raise a child became clear as a delegation of 60 or so seated behind the Lyndon State bench would clap and shout with joy every time one of their beloved Warriors-now-Hornets accomplished something on Brown’s court.
There was Crookes with Joe Handy, the former C.F. girls’ basketball head coach, sitting in the row above. There was Alers’ mother and grandmother along with the parents of Mena and Carle. Warrior hoopsters, both past and present, also made up the cheering section.
“For the (current players) to come over and see those guys play on a college court, it’s a big deal,” said Crookes.
Once the final horn sounded and the teams went through the postgame handshake, Alers, Mena and Carle took the time to share high fives and hugs with just about everyone in the C.F. delegation. No doubt they would have lingered a bit longer had a Lyndon State assistant coach not herded them in the locker room’s vicinity.
Alers needs no reminders that his success has been built on the backs of others, people like Crookes and Handy who were vigilant when it came to being in his corner, refusing to let him fail.
“Being the first person in my family to go to college … the whole C.F. staff was there for me,” expressed a grateful Alers. “I never envisioned that one day I would be playing college basketball.”
“The support staff is still there for us,” said Mena, “even though we are far away.”
“I can’t say enough good things about the job Brian did with them at Central Falls,” said Krupinski.
It’s the second half of Saturday’s game, and Brown is pouring it on like a Division I team is supposed to do against a Div. III school. The game proved too fast for Lyndon State, but that didn’t matter. What did was seeing Alers, Mena and Carle take the court cloaked in Hornet garb. You didn’t need to be familiar with the background story to understand the journey; all the proof was in the smiles sported by those in the stands and numbers 22 (Mena), 33 (Alers) and 31 (Carle).
Now that’s the definition of a success story.