By RayJaun Stelly, The Seattle Medium
Long before Cleveland’s new girls’ head basketball coach Alfred Love, Jr., took over the program; he had already been putting his imprint on helping youth through the game of basketball. From the time he picked up his first clipboard in the 1980s, Coach Love, just like his name says, did what he loves to do as a basketball coach at Rainier Beach Community Center.
From his days at Rainier Beach Community Center, his journey would begin to branch off. In 1995, Love would spend two years as an assistant coach for the Chief Sealth girls’ team before returning to South Seattle in 1997 to become an assistant coach at Rainier Beach High School. Then with experience at both the recreation and high school level, Love returned to coaching at the youth level in 2002.
When asked what made Love start coaching, his response was, “I realized I have a connection with the youth, I’ve been doing it for 30 years, and the time goes by fast when you’re doing what you love.”
For Love, the time went extremely fast, considering that he planned to stop coaching in 2008 after his players turned ten years old. However, fate and his willingness to make sure that the kids had an opportunity to develop their skills and play the game took over, and Love found himself back on the bench instilling lessons in teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship.
“I was expecting the kids would advance to play with other coaches,” said Love. “The previous girls’ basketball coach at the community center didn’t return, so the center asked if I would continue coaching the girls, to which I agreed.”
One year later, in 2009, Love founded the SYRF basketball program, which stands for Seattle Youth Recreation Foundation. According to Love, the name is based on the following theory; Seattle is where we’re from, Youth is the community served, Recreation is the type of program they have, and Foundation provides the base and beginning skills for youth wanting to learn basketball.
The genesis of the team was Love’s desire to have his team travel and participate in tournaments outside of Seattle. But to do this, he needed to raise money, which was difficult for a community center team to do.
“In my first year of coaching the 10-year-old girls, we had a weekend off during Presidents Day,” explained Love. “This is a normal break in the season, which I had forgotten about when I had my previous coaching stint, but I was frustrated because it felt like our team was the only one that wasn’t traveling somewhere that weekend to play basketball.”
Using that frustration as motivation, Love was determined to raise enough money to take his team to a tournament the following year. Going through the process of searching for travel funds without much luck, Love re-routed and found it beneficial to create a non-profit to help receive donations simply. With that in mind, he founded SYRF and received a grant from none other than Nike. In addition, he earned a grant from his job after being named the volunteer of the year.
After raising money for his team, Love took his first girls’ basketball team to Portland in 2010 to play in a President’s Day weekend tournament. Since then, the program has grown to include multiple teams for both boys and girls that allow them to enjoy travel and play basketball.
“For many of these kids, this is their first time traveling with a team,” said Love. “We make things affordable for kids to have this experience, and it is not about the wins or losses. We have a lot of kids in our program who have gone on to play in high school and college as well.”
Unlike many other traveling basketball programs across the country, SYRF is affordable and allows all kids interested in participating.
“We don’t have any tryouts for our teams, we don’t make cuts or charge enormous fees like some AAU programs, and all of our coaches are volunteers,” says Love. “We have a wonderful relationship with Seattle Parks and Recreation and Rainier Beach Community center, which has always been our home. Our program also offers basketball skill development classes in the fall and spring for youth and our basketball teams in the winter.”
Having the ability to build a program from the ground up, Love was looking to do that yet again at the high school level and wanted to do so in South Seattle because that is where he has called home, which ultimately landed him at Cleveland High School.
In most cases, a team and coach’s success are defined by wins and losses, but Love isn’t abiding by that typical sports stereotype when it comes to his coaching or his team. Instead, he’s found an alternate style of coaching and mantra, emphasizing players determine their own rules of success and do whatever it is that they find to be successful.
According to Love, basketball teams and programs will have good years and bad years, and while he is determined to build a successful program at Cleveland, he is equally focused on making sure his team is prepared for their next levels of life.
“We can win games or win a state title, but if I can’t prepare you for college, I have failed,” said Love. “It’s not just about playing sports at the next level; it’s about having them prepared.”
With players like Cheyenne and Whitney Wilson, Jayde Christopher, Makala Roper, and Myzhanqiue Ladd, who all helped put state title banners on the gym walls of the school, the Cleveland girls’ basketball program was once a force to be reckoned with on both the local and national basketball landscapes. With Love looking to rebuild the program, he knows that the bar is set high, and reaching it will not happen overnight.
“I have to remind my girls that you have banners on the wall,” said Love. “It’s more than just coaching for me; it’s beyond the court we’re looking for, and this is going to be a three-year plan.
We must dig down and get our foundation first, then build up,” Love concluded.