Ten young boys gather to play basketball at Central City Community Center each afternoon. Most of them can't afford to pay an entry fee to join a league or attend a basketball camp.
Not many people expected them to go very far in basketball, but Ranee Tademy hopes to change that.Tademy, 31, volunteered to be their coach, and he and other volunteers at the community center paid the entry fee to the Junior Jazz League.
"The Orange Men," as they like to call themselves, are undefeated in league play and will play for the championship Monday, April 8, in the Salt Palace. They may also be playing an exhibition game during halftime of the Jazz game.
"The emphasis is to keep them off the streets. They have friends who are involved with the gangs. Most kids get involved in gangs because of low self-esteem. . . . Playing ball keeps them away from that," Tademy said. He said most of the youths live in the downtown area and come from low-income households.
The players range in age from 13 to 14 years old. Tademy said most of them hadn't been far from home until their basketball travels took them to other parts of Salt Lake City.
Tademy said that as a young boy sports helped him gain self-esteem, and he's sure it's doing the same for his team. "In this area there are a lot of negative influences. We have to keep these guys in school, and playing ball will keep their self-esteem up and, in turn, it will keep them away from gang activity."
Filiki Malae, 32, the community center's building attendant, also spends a lot of time talking with the players and helping them improve themselves. He says he doesn't want to see them waste their talent.
"If sports are going to help them get a better life, then so be it," Malae said. "We see so many kids get wasted on drugs. We don't want them to go through life like that.
"If we can help, this is our part, to help the community and these kids. Maybe someday they'll remember us - the Samoan and the black guy," Malae said. He said it's hard to be a minority in Utah, and he believes that the youths get a lot of their determination to win from the opposition that they've faced.
"I think they really care about us. They are just like our dads. They want us to stay out of trouble," said Carlos Flores, 14, the team's star player.
Wayne Munanui, 14, said Malae and Tademy help them a lot and that they are friends to the boys. Jason Ballin, 14, who busied himself before practice by shooting three-pointers, said the coaches have taught him to work hard. Other members of the team are Keegan Heldman, 14; Zak Crowther, 13; Hector Brito, 14; Bill Richardson, 14; Danny Rivera, 14; and Brandon Cahoon, 14.