Teaching life lessons through basketball

February 23, 2007
Reported by Pam Dixon

Cliff Miller grew up in a housing project where neighborhood sports meant everything to a kid. Miller says, "That was the only entertainment we had." With his biological father no where around, Miller's stepfather became the positive role model in his life. Now Miller has become a father figure for an entire neighborhood of kids. Miller says, "In order for my neighborhood to get better, I need to step up and be a leader of some young people."

Miller started coaching youth basketball 27 years ago. Years later in 1996, the former school maintenance worker was seriously injured when he fell of a roof. He survived, but was a changed man. Miller says, "When I got up I just felt like the Lord had a calling on my life. He chose me to do something. Loving sports and loving kids was what I needed to do."

That's when Miller stepped up his game to a higher level. Miller says, "They love basketball. You give them what they like first and then while you get them here, you give them what they need. They need somebody strong enough to make them believe in themselves, make them stay away from drugs, stay away from crime."

Here basketball is no longer just a game. It's Miller's way of reaching youth with a full court press. 13 year old Devin Collins says, "We learn leadership, academics. They help us achieve in school, achieve our goals." 11 year old Demond Delahoussaye says, "After school they tell us to come over here for tutoring."

The strategy is working. 11 year old Harold Johnson plans to go to college. Harold says, "In college, they don't let you play basketball unless you have good grades." 12 year old Jaylond Jackson says he has improved his attitude. Jaylond says, "I think more not for myself but for the team. I've become a leader for the team, too."

More than 50 kids - five teams worth- from ages five to about 15 are part of the Goosport Youth Basketball program. Miller coaches year round, often taking teams out of town for tournament play. He's lined up business sponsors, held weekend fund raisers and even used his own money to pay for expenses-- all part of the investment in developing winners on and off the court.

Miller says, "You got to help each other. We're only as good as our weakest player."

On Fridays, Miller brings in motivational speakers to talk to the players.