February 28, 2015 –
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Everybody loves basketball. What’s better is that everybody can play basketball!
What has long been staple of communities across the country, no sport has stepped across racial lines and provides a means for diversity the way the hardwood has.
On the court, the color of your skin doesn’t matter. On the court what matters is the skill in your body, the power in your mind, and the drive in your heart.
That’s why when the opportunity to talk to young, impressionable minds presented itself at the 2015 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament held in Charlotte, North Carolina, Feb. 26-28, Soldiers and officers of the Army Reserve took that opportunity and ran with it.
“This has been an incredible experience. Coming to the CIAA tournament is always awesome. But doing it in a role that I love, as a drill sgt., and being able to present the opportunities and benefits of the Army Reserve makes it even better,” said Army Reserve drill sgt., Staff Sgt. Brian Johnson, Task Force Marshall, 108th Training Command.
Founded in 1912 as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the CIAA consists of historically black colleges and universities on the east coast, ranging from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. With schools such as Johnson C. Smith University and Virginia State University, the conference now dubbed the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association boasts such alums as Ben Wallace, a professional basketball player formerly with the Detroit Pistons, and Greg Toler, a professional football player drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
Though its name has changed as well as its membership through the years, the CIAA remains the oldest African-American athletic conference in the United States.
“Where I come from on the West side of Charlotte there were very limited opportunities, especially for African-American males. Being raised by mother, and without my father in my life, to have students from schools such as J.C.S.U. come and tutor kids like myself in my community: that left a lasting impression on me. Now it’s time for me to give something back,” Johnson said.
Throughout the week, Soldiers from the Army and Army Reserve set up shop at the Time Warner Cable Arena where the tournament was played, and at ‘Fan Fest’ held at the Charlotte Convention Center just blocks away. Events included an ROTC scholarship presentation at center court of the arena, concerts, step competitions, and a career fair. As more than 100,000 spectators braved the elements to attend the event, not even the treacherous winter weather with six inches of snow uncharacteristic to the area could deter event attendees.
“Weather permitting, I’ll get the chance to continue to talk to these young kids about the benefits of the ROTC program,” said Gregory Wiegand, a cadet currently in the ROTC program and former enlisted military police Soldier with the Army Reserve.
“I enjoyed my time as an enlisted Soldier but I really admired and respected my first line leader who happened to be the executive officer when I was deployed to Iraq. After sitting down with him and hearing how much he enjoyed his career, I decided to do it full time and hopefully I can convince some of these folks to do the same,” Wiegand added.
While all of the volunteers at the event felt some connection to the CIAA, for some that connection has lasted a lifetime.
“Originally when I joined the ROTC program, it was about getting money and paying my way through college. Now I see it’s more about changing lives. That’s what ROTC has done for me. It has changed my life,” said Col. Samuel Licorish, USACAPOC (A) Organizational Inspectional Program chief and Virginia State alum.
“This is my own personal reach back program. I know what the ROTC program and the Army have done for me. The program is about developing leaders and I’m hoping to talk to some of these future leaders; telling them what being a leader is all about, and get these kids to get involved. When I got involved in the program in the eighties no one talked to me about being a leader. That’s the message I want to convey to these kids today. That’s the message I want to convey when I retire. I want to be a mentor to these kids long after my career with the Army is over,” Licorish said.
No matter your connection to the CIAA. No matter your sex, color, or creed. No matter whether you are enlisted or commissioned. The Army Reserve has always been about mentoring young minds and there is no better way to provide that mentorship than on the hardwood.