News from the Tennessee Valley Sports
TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2007

Decatur High junior basketball player Pierre Key, right, pretends to be a goal as a young resident of Cartoga, Costa Rica, near San Jose, takes a shot during the Decatur group's mission trip in June. Assisting are juniors Brooks Johnson, left, and Josh Busby.
Courtesy photo by Jamie Lee
Decatur High junior basketball player Pierre Key, right, pretends to be a goal as a young resident of Cartoga, Costa Rica, near San Jose, takes a shot during the Decatur group's mission trip in June. Assisting are juniors Brooks Johnson, left, and Josh Busby.

Basketball & Bibles
Decatur High players pass the
word and the ball in Costa Rica

By Brooke Milam 340-2460

It seemed like a long shot when Decatur High boys basketball coach Jamie Lee stood in front of a group of his varsity players' parents with the lofty proposal of taking the team to Costa Rica for a week-long trip that would combine mission work and basketball.

"I didn't know what to expect, but the interest and support for the trip was definitely more than I'd hoped for," Lee said.

Lee's entire 15-player team took interest, and 14 were able to make the trip.

And a couple weeks after returning to the United States, Lee and his team have fresh memories of playing with Costa Rican orphans, repairing a run-down public basketball court and handing out Bible tracts in the streets of Costa Rica.

"The thing that I know after coming back is that collectively we have a great group of young men representing Decatur High," Lee said.

Lee got the idea from SCORE International and Coach Tommy Kyle, who took the Decatur Heritage basketball team on similar trips to the Dominican Republic this summer and in 2006.

While in Costa Rica, the Red Raiders were able to play two basketball games against local club teams and also a game against the Costa Rican Junior National team. Lee said his team went 2-1 while in Costa Rica, with two dominant wins, but still the basketball was not the focus of the trip.

"I don't know how much we got out of it from a basketball standpoint, but
the bond created was incredible," Lee said.

The Red Raiders spent the majority of their time visiting a local church and orphanage, giving a clinic for elementary students, delivering food to needy families and cutting down weeds to make a neighborhood basketball court playable for the locals.

Lee and the Red Raiders were joined on the trip by Lee's wife, Jennifer; 9-year-old daughter Anna; assistant coach David Hewitt; Hewitt's daughter Peyton, who is a seventh-grader at Oak Park; and Rashonda Gross.

Lee said it didn't take an experienced group to make a difference in the lives of the Costa Rican people they came in contact with — only four of the 15 players that made the trip had any kind of mission work experience and most was domestic.

Justin Bishop, one of only two Red Raiders that will be a senior this upcoming season, said he's been on annual mission trips to various locations with First Baptist Church for several years but that having the experience with his teammates put a new spin on the task of reaching people.

"It's a draw because people want to come see us play basketball, to see the competition, and then you get an opportunity to share Jesus," Bishop said.

Each player had to raise $1,595 to support their trip. An overwhelming figure, considering the players only had 11 weeks to raise the funds.

But once again, Lee said the support was overwhelming.

Players wrote letters to raise money to family, friends and also got their churches involved. Lee said he was impressed with the outpouring and also with his players' unselfishness to give up a week of their summer vacation to help others.

"I think we all sacrificed to go. We sacrificed things that we wanted to do around here," junior Chris Coffey said.

"It made it even better to get to do it with my teammates."

Several Red Raiders players said basketball was still on their mind during the week, but for the first time in a long time, sports wasn't the first priority.

"I was thinking we would go down there to play basketball and do a little mission work on the side," junior Levi Cook said.

"It turned out we did a lot of mission work and not much basketball and it was a great trip. To experience that together, I'm sure it helped us."

After graduating 10 seniors off last year's team that made the Class 5A Final Four, this season's Red Raider group will probably include two seniors, eight juniors and four sophomores.

"Me being a senior, I've had to try and take a leadership role and that's new to me," Bishop said.

"We had so many seniors that graduated last year, so this is a new group, and it helped the bond. We are definitely tighter now."

Lee and his players said they are convinced that the trips experiences will translate onto the basketball court.

"We're not going to be the same team we were last year athletically, but these guys are going to represent our school well," Lee said.

Lee expects that when he meets with his players and team parents next spring, he'll encounter another eager group.

"I feel confident we could do it again. A couple of them have already asked me, 'Coach, where are we going next year?' " Lee said.

"We were there for a big picture and that makes me proud. It's going to be an awful fun group to coach."

Back from Costa Rica

Fourteen Decatur High basketball players joined coach Jamie Lee on a mission trip to Costa Rica in June.

Players making eight-day trip were seniors Justin Bishop and Jonathan Brannon; juniors Chris Coffey, Mitch Fawcett, Cody Mitchell, Josh Busby, Brooks Johnson, Pierre Key, Miles Stevenson and Levi Cook; and sophomores William Johnson, Raheem England, Bo Martin and Bo Gilliam.

- Brooke Milam

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