Fifth-graders eye nationals

Published 1:19 pm Saturday, April 5, 2014

Team Suffolk’s fifth grade team has qualified for the Florida-based AAU National Championships and is seeking donations so it can go compete. Front row, from left: Kendon Peebles, Cameron Edmonds, Luke Williamson, Calvin Beatty, Jordan Horne and Efrem Johnson Jr.; back row, from left: head coach Carlos Hill, George Pettaway, Khiazi Jones, Isaiah Williams, Ryan Williams, Adonte Warmack, Kemauri Spencer and assistant coach Efrem Johnson Sr.

Team Suffolk’s fifth grade team has qualified for the Florida-based AAU National Championships and is seeking donations so it can go compete. Front row, from left: Kendon Peebles, Cameron Edmonds, Luke Williamson, Calvin Beatty, Jordan Horne and Efrem Johnson Jr.; back row, from left: head coach Carlos Hill, George Pettaway, Khiazi Jones, Isaiah Williams, Ryan Williams, Adonte Warmack, Kemauri Spencer and assistant coach Efrem Johnson Sr.

Many athletes hope to hit the national stage when they get to college, or perhaps even high school. A group of Suffolk boys have already qualified for that stage, and they are only in the fifth grade.

Team Suffolk’s fifth-grade boys’ basketball team recently won an Amateur Athletic Union Super Regional tournament to qualify for the AAU National Championships held in Cocoa Beach, Fla., this July.

Before the youths clinched it, though, the Tidewater Wildcats blocked the boys’ way in the Super Regional championship game.

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“They beat us earlier in the pool play,” Team Suffolk head coach Carlos Hill said.

There were more than eight teams in the age division and a total of three teams in Team Suffolk’s pool. On a Friday evening, the youths began play in the event with a 66-35 rout of the Virginia Venom.

The game against the Wildcats was the next morning at 8 a.m. and the local boys narrowly fell, 46-44, finishing second in the pool.

“Everybody stepped it up on defense after that first loss,” Hill said.

As single-elimination bracket play began on Sunday, Team Suffolk began to dominate, first decimating the Hampton Hoyas 63-17, then defeating the Southside Ballers 49-28 before facing the Wildcats once more. This time, Team Suffolk triumphed by a score of 62-51.

Aside from his team playing in the afternoon as opposed to first thing in the morning, Hill cited what changed from the first Wildcats game.

“We didn’t turn the ball over a lot,” he said, and added that the boys did better at hitting the easy shots.

For offense, Hill praised Efrem Johnson Jr.

“He led us in scoring throughout the tournament,” the coach said, while George Pettaway led the team in assists.

Hill also underscored the impact of Calvin Beatty.

“He ignited our defense,” Hill said. “He’s the spark. Where he goes, we go.”

The coach said when Beatty decides he’s going to take control of the game defensively, he does, and though he is the littlest guy on the team, “he scores all his points in the paint.”

Some of the boys on the team have had the benefit of playing together for a couple of years. But team coordinator Claudine Campbell explained further why the squad, which won a second Super Regional tourney last weekend, has been able to be victorious.

“We’ve been training for months,” she said, noting the boys have been able to practice a few days each week at the Salvation Army’s Robert W. Harrell Jr. Physical Health and Education Center on Bank Street. “We have a great partnership with Captain (Jim) Shiels there.”

She credited Carlos Hill and assistant coach Efrem Johnson Sr. for guiding the youths.

“They work hard with them, and they demand perfection, and they’ve been working very hard at getting them ready for these tournaments,” she said.

Many of the boys are also honor roll students and strong members of their churches, Campbell said, seeking to live up to the high standards their parents have for them both on and off the court.

To compete at the national level in Florida will require a significant cost, including entry fees, transportation and lodging. Team Suffolk is seeking donations from the community to help it give the boys this opportunity.

One way to donate is by participating in the team’s fish-fry fundraiser on April 19, beginning at 10 a.m. in the Carolina Cleaners parking lot on 506 E. Washington St.

For more information, to pre-order fish or to make a donation, contact Claudine Campbell at 347-684-2404 or kpwcec@yahoo.com.