There’s a pretty good chance that the members of the current George Washington Educational Campus Boys Varsity basketball team aren’t familiar with the name Steven Rodriguez, but it’s a name and unfortunate fate head coach Alexander Abbondola knows all too well.
Nicknamed “Dembo”, Rodriguez played basketball under Coach Abbondola until the former student-athlete’s life was cut down short in 2019 at the age of 22. The cause of death: inner city gun violence. It’s a big reason why Coach Abbondola is passionate about his team playing in the 2nd Annual Ballin’ 4 Peace Holiday Basketball Classic. It’s an opportunity to honor a former student-athlete like Dembo Rodriguez while also teaching his current players about the life-lessons that come with playing the game of basketball this holiday season.
“It’s important for us to take part because this event is bigger than just basketball. Unfortunately, we lost a former player of our program to gun violence at the young age of 22 back in 2019. This is an ongoing situation that our communities are facing and this event sheds light on it. Not only does it shed light on it, but shows that basketball can be used as a positive outlet to bring peace to our communities and uplift each other,” said Coach Abbondola.
Earlier this year, the New York Times ran a story in April that clearly echoed Coach Alexander’s sentiments. The story detailed how when shootings in New York rose after the Coronavirus, doubling from historic lows in 2018 and 2019, so did the number of young people caught in the violence with at least 40 children and teenagers being shot in 2022 to that point (April), making up about one in every 10 victims. The number is on track to match or exceed the number of youth victims in 2021, when 138 were struck by bullets. Anyway the numbers are broken down, the mathematics take a toll on all communities, but particularly inner city communities with black and brown populations. It’s a sad reality that doesn’t take the holiday season off. If anything, this is the perfect time of the year to once again speak to the heart of the matter and help spread peace through sports.
“My biggest message to our team is that violence is not a solution to any problem and that we are a family that should be not only looking-out for each other, but also our communities,” Coach Abbondola continued.
Come Tuesday, December 27th and Wednesday, December 28th at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens, the George Washington High School Varsity Boys Basketball team will be able to do exactly that. Confirmed Varsity teams include Thomas Edison High School, Bayside High School, Broome Street Academy, Hillcrest High School, Summit Academy, Springfield Gardens, Van Buren High School, Cardozo High School, Thurgood Marshall High School, Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences, Erasmus Hall High School, Eagle Academy, and Gompers High School. JV Girls and Boys teams from around New York City will also be featured at the Classic and given their stage to shine.
For the Trojans, Coach Abbondola relies heavily on his entire squad to step up as leaders with three particular players standing out on the court and in the classroom in Manhattan for George Washington: Isauly Lara Brito (2025) currently holds the highest GPA average with a cumulative average of 91; Mfouapn “Malik” Jamal (2023) has embodied staying power by being part of the basketball program for 4 years; while Cheickna Sigue (2023) possesses an overall work ethic and effort that’s worthy of recognition.
“It’s a time of the year to reflect and recharge given the upcoming new year. This tournament is used as a reminder to be both grateful for being alive and all that we have, but also highlighting the struggles that black and brown communities continue to face,” Coach Abbondola explained, while reflecting on what he’d like the Trojans to come away with while playing in the Classic.
It’s a valuable point that is synonymous with earning a big victory.
“I would like my players to learn that the game of basketball is so much bigger than any individual. The game can uplift and bring together individuals, communities, and nations at large. There is too much hate going on in the world and I hope my players learn the importance of spreading love.”
Purchase your tickets to the 2nd Annual Ballin’ 4 Peace Holiday High School Basketball Classic today.
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