Story and Photos by Herman Delgado
This past summer, several players from the UTEP Men’s Basketball Team came out to a few of the local high schools and volunteered their time in instructing young athletes in the fundamentals and skills of basketball. Allowing these young boys and girls to hang out with them, ask questions, and get a look at the life and what it takes to be a division one college basketball player. Not long ago, these UTEP players began their basketball careers at the elementary, middle, and high school level…just like them.
Game Changers (GC) has been around for several years and reaches out to between 16,000-18,000 kids through school assemblies at no cost to the schools. Rafael Ramirez co-owner of GC mentioned that his program would not be possible without the support and inspiration from his wife Maria. “She was my inspiration to start Game Changers” (Maria is co-owner of GC). It offers basketball, football, and volleyball camps free of charge to parents and kids. Every year, GC with the support of UTEP Athletic Director Jim Senter, reach out to the El Paso community to get kids and parents involved. This year Ramirez reached out to UTEP Head Coach Joe Golding and asked for help from his basketball program in running the Summer Basketball Camps, and Golding’s immediate response was, “Let’s make it happen!” UTEP Athletics has always been a big part of GC, but these camps would not be possible without the assistance from the school districts and use of their facilities. YISD Superintendent Dr. Xavier De La Torre was instrumental in securing the venues for these camps as well as reaching out to the basketball coaching staffs at Ysleta High School, Eastwood High School, and Jefferson High School. “Without their support none of this would have been possible,” said Ramirez.
Leadership on the hardwood was a must, so who better than UTEP’s senior forward Tydus Verhoeven to take the reins as Camp Director and run these camps with the help from several of his UTEP Teammates: Souley Boum, Keonte Kennedy, Bonke Maring, Cam Clardy, Jorell Saterfield, and Ze’rik Onyema. The camps were successful, and the high school coaching staffs were on hand to help the operation run smoothly. Verhoeven was very pleased, “These last three days have been great and getting out in the community working with these kids,”. Watching the impact these UTEP players made on these boys and girls was quite a sight. “Making connections with them, and now when they come out to the games, they’re cheering for us, we can see those faces in the crowd and make a connection with them,” said Verhoeven. These basketball camps not only provide the opportunity to learn the game of basketball, but also open doors for these kids to share their stories with UTEP players, players from other schools, and from different parts of the city. “To shake their hand and have a relationship with them…we want to have a connection of who’s cheering with us, just like the community wants to know who they’re cheering for…love being out here with these kids!” said Verhoeven.
GC also reaches out to professionals in their field and has various speakers, such as Adrian Branch (NBA World Champion and current ESPN Basketball Analyst) and Byron Samuel (NBA China Director and former NCAA Basketball Head Coach) that are representatives of USA Youth Outreach (USAYO) at all camps. With so many of these valuable resources coming together, GC is not only focusing on sports, but on empowering the minds of young men and women…future leaders in our community.
Miranda Vasquez, a senior at Silva Health Magnet High School, and varsity player on the Jefferson High School basketball team was impressed with how organized and well run the camp went. “I would recommend this camp to those who love to play basketball. It taught me a lot…I will use this in my next year of playing. The players pushed us hard and that was good,” said Vasquez. With the UTEP Miners season tipping off this month, does Vasquez plan on going out and supporting them? Sweat running down her face and with a big smile Vasquez replied, “I love going to the Miners games…I love watching them play…Go Miners!”
When I first met and sat down with Senter back in March 2018, the first thing he said to me was, “You’re going to hear me talk about it over and over, Every Person Makes A Difference…E-P-M-A-D hashtag, E-P-M-A-D…write that down!” And true to his word, UTEP Athletics continues to come through in reaching out to our youth and our community.
*Game Changers is a 501(c)(3) organization and is involved in various sport camps that cater to high school sports.