Power on the court, empowerment of heart and mind

Power on the court, empowerment of heart and mind
The Lady Predators Elite basketball team surround Mayor Lenny Curry and Molly Curry.

Basketball team wins tournament, scholarships

The North Florida Lady Predators Elite AAU Girls Basketball team may be champions on the court, but their real “dream team” hustles off the court.

McKenna Miller and Emily Citrano

McKenna Miller and Emily Citrano

The Lady Predators won the AAU Girls Basketball International Championship, held July 27-30 in Orlando, playing against teams from Puerto Rico; London, England, and Central Florida.

The team is coached by A.B. Rock who, with his wife, Angela, founded the Lady Predators four years ago. The Rocks’ youngest daughter Tariyana played on the team while she attended Mandarin High School; their older daughters Tierney and Courtney help coach.

“We have won a lot of tourneys over the past four years, with this year being our best so far,” said Coach Rock. “We have a great young crop of players.”

Many of the girls on the team come from hard-working, single-parent homes or challenging socio-economic backgrounds presenting them with obstacles for opportunity. One such challenge is maintaining good grades while dedicating time to sports and part-time jobs.

That challenge was met two years ago when the Dream Team, a peer tutoring and barter program, was developed by Hollin, now a freshman at The Bolles School, and her older sister Brighton Hakimian, a senior also at Bolles.

“The overwhelming need in tutoring has been for Algebra II, Geometry and Calculus,” said their mother Paige Hakimian. “Brighton has donated over 200 hours in free tutoring to the girls. Consequently, conceptual understanding, grades and scores have soared with one-on-one attention.”

Players who receive Dream Team tutoring have to pay it back, with a gift or talent they possess, to someone else in need in the group. The Hakimian sisters hope to expand the concept through a club this school year at Bolles, with hopes of it becoming a template for schools throughout the community.

More than basketball

The Dream Team is an offshoot of the Leadership and Empowerment program, created by Paige Hakimian, a San Jose resident and mother of six.

Paige Hakimian, Boyd and Molly Curry

Paige Hakimian, Boyd and Molly Curry

When her daughter Hollin started playing middle school basketball while at Bolles and joined the Lady Predators, Paige developed relationships with Hollin’s teammates.

“I spent time with the girls at practices and travel tournaments and felt they could use and benefit from some solid skills to help them get into college,” said Paige, who started the summer program a few years ago. “My church (St. John’s Cathedral) donates space and I make lunch for them every Wednesday and we spend two to three hours together. We are very much a family!”

For the most part, the group of 30 to 45 academically and/or athletically talented girls come from middle and high schools all over the city – including Raines, Ribault, Englewood, Orange Park, Lakeshore, Bishop Kenny, Wolfson, Bolles, Andrew Jackson, Lee, Mandarin, Paxon, and Fletcher.

“The girls attend all summer, every week, to learn about goal setting and attainment, building resumes, stress management, and financial responsibility. We visit colleges, locate internships and jobs, do community service, and provide a complete SAT prep course for our rising juniors and seniors,” said Paige. “Last year, all our graduates got scholarships to college. These dedicated girls rise to greatness, despite their very challenging situations.”

San Jose Catholic seventh-grade student Emily Citrano has been on the team for a couple of years and attended Leadership and Empowerment. “It’s more than just a basketball program,” she said. “It’s about getting together with the girls and really bonding, and learning what life holds for you.”

Meet and greet

Last month Jacksonville’s new mayor, Lenny Curry, along with wife Molly and son Boyd, met the young women at their last Leadership and Empowerment class at St. John’s Cathedral on August 5.

Brighton, Hollin and Paige Hakimian

Brighton, Hollin and Paige Hakimian

After Paige introduced the team and their recent championship acknowledged, Mayor Curry’s first comment was, “We believe in girl power in our house,” getting a chuckle from Molly. The Currys have two daughters of their own.

“You’re successful when you know the skills you are getting on the court and in practice transcend what you’re doing today and really pay off later in life,” Mayor Curry told the girls, as he shared stories about his 2.6 high school GPA, turning his academic performance around in college, and his hard-fought, successful run for the mayoral office.

During the 30-minute question-and-answer session with Mayor Curry, members of the Lady Predators asked insightful questions, carefully listened to the Mayor’s earnest responses and then followed up with suggestions of their own for a safer, less racially divisive Jacksonville.

After the Mayor departed, with as little fanfare as he had arrived, the girls settled down to more hard work off the court.

“Despite circumstances, they are faithful, committed, dynamic, smart, articulate and full of hopes and dreams,” Paige said

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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