When most folks hear the words, “Fair, Eastsiii-iiii-iiide”, they think of the highly harmonized tune that was belted out in the boy’s room in the unforgettable scene from the 1989 “Lean on Me”, based on the real life of Joe Louis Clark, former principal of Eastside High in Patterson, N.J. Today, its 2012-13 basketball team, the Eastside Ghosts, led by Coach Juan Griles, will play the Dorchester Bears, led by Coach Johnny Williams, at 5:30 p.m. at Emmanuel College for no-fee matchup between two teams that have garnered good press in their respective states.
Today, there was a group of young men touring Dorchester Academy and TechBoston Academy, the schools where the Dorchester Bears field their athletes from, breaking bread, laughing and listening to a motivational speech from Northeastern University Athletic Director and former Harvard basketball coach Peter Roby.
Although the game was on the minds of the players, Friday was about something bigger.
“Our kids have an opportunity to see kids like them from a different region,” said Williams. “They’re going through similar situations, but they’re from some distance away. In connecting beyond basketball, they could build relationships and we could travel down to Patterson to play them next year. That would be amazing.”
The ride down for Griles and his guys was fine, but once he hit traffic in downtown Boston due to construction, the trip got bumpy.
“We drove our bus around Boston for a good 45 minutes at 1 in the morning,” joked Griles. “We don’t have traffic like that in Patterson.”
Basketball, in most inner cities in America, is the dream of kids on concrete courts, community center gymnasiums and dirt roads with a milk crate nailed to a tree. A culture, if you will, of young men and women hoping to change their futures through scholarly pursuits and their athletic prowess. Principal Kwesi Moody of Dorchester Academy grew up in Patterson and attended Eastside High School. This day is literally a vision transformed into reality.
“When I got a chance to work in Boston, I saw how similar these two communities were even though they were in different states,” said Moody. When his brother Zatiti Moody became principal of Eastside four years ago, the brothers began the work of traveling on I-95 to open up their student athletes to each other, as both had done in student exchange programs at Eastside.
“We decided more recently for the kids to not only meet prior to the game but also to visit the schools our players attend,” added Kwesi Moody.
One of the students who took part in today’s historical events was Dorchester Academy senior Darrius Patterson, a power forward for the Bears. A polished gentleman off the court and imposing force down low on the floor, Patterson enjoyed the day immensely.
“We started off with a nice continental breakfast, toured the facilities and showed the Eastside team our daily routine," he said. "We had a luncheon later and took a group picture before we parted ways. It was a great experience and I hope it becomes an annual event.”
During the breakfast, the teams sat at separate tables, but at the parting in the afternoon, the teams took a mixed group picture. Moody can’t pinpoint when the teams clicked and became a group of young men bonding with each other, but he will never forget when he first saw it.
“I was worried because even after breakfast release they went up in pairs," he said. "By the time they came back down to the cafeteria, they were slapping five and laughing together. I thought at that moment, ‘they’ve communicated and their clicking.’ That showed me although there is a game being played tomorrow between teams, as individuals, they’ve started to bond.”
This is just the kind of connection that Griles hoped would come out of the meeting before the game.
“When it comes to social media and communication, these kids can become friends and associates. If a kid from Boston ever visits Patterson, or vice versa, they can also reach out knowing they have an associate to meet up with. I think that’d be awesome.”
Corey Allen is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com's high schools section, and a Community Liaison at TechBoston Academy, whose students compete athletically for Dorchester.