“Everything that I’ve gotten to experience and have this chance, I’m very grateful and I’m not going to take it for granted.”
Of all the kids who play basketball for the Spring Valley Athletic Association, none are more thankful for the opportunity than a group of boys at Lake Highlands Middle School.
“Everything that I’ve gotten to experience and have this chance, I’m very grateful and I’m not going to take it for granted,” said player Ti Reh.
Their love for basketball began in a vastly different world.
Born in war-torn Burma, these boys were forced from their homes during the Burmese civil war.
As children, they, and thousands more, fled the country, risking their lives. Some were killed, but many ended up in refugee camps and others were eventually allowed to come to the United States.
When they arrived, these boys has never even heard of basketball.
Still, they learned about a 3-on-3 tournament and asked their teacher, Ashley Nick, to help sign them up.
“And after I did that they were like, ‘you’re gonna be our coach, right?’ And I was like, ‘oh no,’” Nick said.
Ashley didn’t know the first thing about basketball, but obliged. Knowing she couldn’t do it on her own, she asked another teacher, Allison Beene to help out.
“I think every time we walk into a gym people expect us to lose,” Beene said.
That first game, they did lose. Badly.
“They slaughtered us,” Nick said. “Slaughtered us. I don’t even think we made a basket.”
“Couldn’t even do a layup or couldn’t even shoot,” said player Su Reh.
“We didn’t even know what a layup was,” said player Benjamin Liam.
“I watched a lot of YouTube videos to help me improve,” Ti Reh said.
Thanks to YouTube and practice, lots of practice, eventually they did improve.
They joined the Spring Valley Athletic Association and won their second game.
Then, won again and became so good, they ended their first season as division champions. Perhaps the most unlikely team to ever win a Spring Valley championship.
Since then, some of their younger friends and family have won a championship, too.
As for those teachers who made it possible they only planned on helping for that one tournament, but here they are, five years, and many blessings, later.
“Every second’s been worth it,” Beene said. “It has been one of the greatest joys of my life.”
Sometimes, to fully appreciate something, all you need is perspective. And sometimes, all it takes is knowing just how far you’ve come.
“It was hard, but I like it and I didn’t want to give up on it and it was the only sport that made me happy,” Su Reh said.
“If my family had stayed in Burma, I don’t think we’d have the chance to think about basketball,” Ti Reh said. “Basketball has done a lot for me. I’m very thankful.”
Which is why, no matter what happens on the court, these boys have already won.