Annapolis woman's basketball league gives dads a fair shot at getting involved

October 17, 2006|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

There are dads whose role in the education of their children ends at the altar - when they marry the women they expect to handle all that stuff.

And there are dads whose role in the education of their children ends at conception - absent fathers whose own memories of school may be so negative that nothing could get them in the schoolhouse door again.

And then there are the dads who are playing basketball Thursday nights in Annapolis, lured into their children's schools with the promise of a little exercise and a little fun.

Rhonda Pindell-Charles, who has been, along with her family, a quiet force in the African-American community in Annapolis for generations, has started a basketball league for the fathers of children in the public school system.

Each of the elementary schools, the two middle schools and Annapolis High School has its own team, and they will play each other in doubleheader games every Thursday night from September until April.

But in exchange for the exercise, the men must sit still for mini-education sessions that Pindell-Charles schedules for the time between the two games.

"It is lockdown," she announced good-naturedly last Thursday night in the gym at Bates Middle School. "Nobody leaves."

While the dads from Rolling Knolls Elementary and Mills-Parole Elementary cooled down and the dads from West Annapolis Elementary and Annapolis Elementary quietly stretched, presenters explained what Title I grants mean to a school, about evening high school and about the county vo-tech school.

On previous evenings, the lessons have been about the importance of homework, regular attendance and on educational goal-setting.

There was also one on how to save on energy this winter.

"I confess, I stole the idea," says Pindell-Charles, whose son and daughter were academic and athletic stars in the Annapolis school system and who works for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

A lawyer by training, she spent a year with the county Health Department and was familiar with the Hispanic soccer league it ran, which required players to listen to lectures on health matters.

"Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the idea stuck."

When she became the community relations specialist for the Board of Education, she had little trouble selling the idea of using basketball to attract fathers into schools - a place where few are regularly seen.

"We just want to get them in the door," she said.

Pindell-Charles receives no funding for the program. She canvassed the community where she has long been a well-regarded figure for the money she needed to buy uniforms and provide prizes that are raffled off to the players and spectators every Thursday night - everything from computers to bus tokens, from Navy football tickets to McDonald's gift certificates.

Attendance at the games - which last Thursday included the principals and more than a dozen teachers from Rolling Knolls and Mills-Parole, plus wives and children - has grown in the first month from a handful to almost 400. The fans even have pom-poms and cheers.

"It is just a matter of getting people together," said Pindell-Charles. "The school staff sees the kids in a different light. The kids get to see their dads in a different light. The moms are smiling.

"And it lets the dads know that the teachers now know who they are. They can't hide anymore," she said.

Keith Wells signed up to play for Mills-Parole at the urging of his twin 7-year-old sons. Like many of the dads puffing up and down the court that night, he is a product of the Annapolis school system, too.

"My boys play little league football, and I have to admit you don't see too many fathers out there," said Wells, his face gleaming with sweat. "Maybe it is work, but you don't see fathers at the schools. Anything that gets them out is OK."

A couple of the fathers gently rolled their eyes when asked about the mandatory lectures. If basketball is the spoonful of sugar, the lessons are the medicine.

"Some fathers may not feel like they need to know this stuff, but they are coming around," said Tony Burch, who has a son and daughter in West Annapolis. "They are starting to get the idea that's what they are here for. One dad e-mailed me about the lectures today. They know they are expected."

But in the meantime, there is the basketball. The scores are low and the sweat flows. More than 100 fathers, godfathers or guardians have signed up, but a couple of teams have had to fill out their rosters with older brothers or neighborhood friends.

"If there were just six guys on our team, we'd be dead," admitted David Thomas, who plays for Rolling Knolls.

You have to wonder what Rhonda Pindell-Charles has planned for the mothers.

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