Suffolk AAU team having an exceptional season in more ways than one

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Andrew Giermak

The 15U Suffolk Blazers are playing this season in dedication to the memory of Ricky Joe.

&uot;He was 110 percent dedicated to this team and these guys,&uot; said Chris Hearn, Sr., who is now the head coach of the AAU boys’ basketball team made up of a 15-player roster made up of players from all three Suffolk high schools.

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Joe, the founder and previous head coach of the Blazers, passed away in October 2005, at the age of 42.

&uot;He would be on the sideline on dialysis, having to walk with a cane, but he wouldn’t miss a practice or a game,&uot; said Hearn.

&uot;We played in Richmond and in Bristol, and he would be there.&uot;

&uot;We wanted to dedicate this season to him,&uot; said Hearn, who became the head coach and has headed up a citywide effort to get sponsors to keep the team playing.

&uot;We just decided we wanted to make a difference in the community.&uot;

LeOtis Williams, CEO of MWM Investments and manager of LW’s Lawn Service, both of which are Suffolk businesses, became a major sponsor of the team, buying new uniforms, getting the team started on its new season, and helping out with travel expenses for AAU tournaments.

There’s a long list of other businesses, people and groups who have helped out the Blazers as well; the Suffolk Boosters Club, Joe Dijulio, Planters Inc., the Suffolk School System, Suffolk Parks and Recreation, JT and E Suffolk Program Office, T and H Bus Service, Mont’s Lawn Service, Pepsi-Cola Suffolk, Bruce Ben, Jean Pry, Debra Bowers and Please Wash Me Car Wash.

In return, the Blazers have more than held up their end of the deal, on the court and off.

On the court, the Blazers are 10-3 in AAU competition so far in 2006.

Earlier this month, the Blazers finished as runners-up in a regional tournament in Richmond, qualifying them for another tournament in Roanoke, May 19-21.

Depending on what the Blazers can do there, a trip to the AAU National Championship in Lexington, Kentucky could happen in July.

In the world of AAU basketball, competition, results and tournaments are crucial to everyone involved, but just as important to Hearn, and assistant coach Antoine Dildy, who has been with the Blazers for four years, is what this team can achieve on a daily basis.

&uot;That’s 15 kids we take off the street,&uot; said Hearn.

&uot;Three nights a week we have practice, we play here once a week, and then usually have tournaments or play somewhere all weekend.&uot;

&uot;That’s at least four or five nights a week they are with us playing basketball instead of on the streets.&uot;

The Blazers divide up into two squads, LW Lawn and Mont’s Lawn, and play each Thursday evening in the Suffolk Teen Basketball League at Mack Benn Elementary School.

In the AAU season though, as long as the Blazers keep winning, tournaments and travel opportunities keep coming too.

The team is still looking for sponsors, especially for the hotel and travel expenses that will be part of the Roanoke tournament.

Anyone with interest or questions about sponsoring the Blazers can call 925-4854 or 309-8519.