STAUNTON AUGUSTA FAMILY YMCA, 708 N. COALTER ST., STAUNTON, VA (540) 885-8089

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“Always Been There for Me …”

Chris Lassiter does marketing and communications for the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA. He shares his YMCA story here.

My older cousin’s house was in the perfect location.

Technically, it wasn’t a literal stone’s throw from the old Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA on Tams Street, but it was so close. A two-story home with white paint and a dark green trim, it was one house up from the 7-Eleven on North Coalter Street.

It wasn’t like my cousin Louis Bolen and I hung out every day, but when we did, he’d go play pick-up games at the YMCA. I wasn’t old enough to compete, just old enough to heave a few shots up between the end of one pick-up game and the start of the next one.

I was basically the halftime show no one cared about.

I was the annoying little kid everyone just wanted to move, but they were a little sympathetic toward me, too, because they had also grown up being that kid just waiting for their turn.

I didn’t know it then, but I was witnessing greatness. The games featured high school all-American Kevin Madden, and also all-American honorable mention Todd Dunnings. There were a bunch of other great players, too, whose names I didn’t know at the time and can’t quite remember now.

That was my first experience with the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA.

I didn’t know it then, but my YMCA story was just getting started.

 

MY TURN TO PLAY

In 2001, I was at the Baltimore Ravens practice facility one week before they were to face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. I remember seeing NFL Hall-of-Famer Rod Woodson walking around shirtless, and just remembering just how chiseled he was from a fitness perspective.

I was really there to interview the Ravens’ back-up tight end. I thought he should have played more, but he was behind this other guy from Savannah State who also ended up also making the NFL Hall of Fame.

Some guy named Shannon Sharpe.

Before the back-up tight end Pedro Edison and I were professional football player and sports reporter, we were the post player and point guard for the Waynesboro YMCA 14-and-under AAU basketball team. Although we took some lopsided losses, our AAU team was pretty good and had a good assortment of Staunton kids, Augusta County kids and Waynesboro kids.

Coach John Spears was committed to getting greatness out of Pedro, but at 14-years-old, Pedro was committed to his comedy routine. When Spears wasn’t looking, Pedro would grab the section of his stomach around his belly button and say, “look … chocolate doughnut” and other funny stuff like that.

It’s so funny that most of my basketball memories have so little do with basketball.

As we were laughing about Pedro’s “doughnuts” or Grape Ape impressions, I never would have guessed that our paths would cross again getting ready for the biggest sports event in America.

THE Y AT NIGHT

 Basketball plays like this one made me glad I grew up before YouTube.

The offensive player made a strong dribble move to the right, and 15-year-old me instinctively slid my feed to cut off his path. Fearing that the player was too quick for me, I overextended. With me now out of position, he dribbled behind his back, switching the ball from his right hand to left hand.

It happened so fast.

I wasn’t ready.

I spun around like a top.

But … at least I didn’t go viral.

The ball handler’s name was Cory Alexander. A future first round draft pick of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, the gap in talent levels could not have been more obvious during that play. A former University of Virginia point guard – and three grades ahead of me – Alexander’s McDonald’s all-American jersey was in a case in the Waynesboro YMCA hallway.

It always allowed us to dream about being the next great player from our area. (which is why I would love to hang up Kevin Madden’s McDonald’s all-American jersey in our YMCA).

That embarrassing incident aside, I was just happy to be on the court with one of my heroes.

Ask anyone who grew up locally about the Waynesboro YMCA late night pick-up games. They were legendary. Players like Shannon Bearfield (ask about him), Robbie Howard (ask about him, too), Alexander, Kenny Brooks, Champ McGuffin, Sidney “Popsicle” Diggs, Big East women’s co-rookie of the year Holly Rilinger and others filled that gym with so much talent.

This didn’t happen every night, but some nights the best players from Staunton would come down, too. There would be days where would be six or seven high-caliber Division I type talents floating around the gym.

There was nowhere I’d rather be than in the Waynesboro YMCA on those nights.

THE SANDLOT … THE BASKETBALL VERSION

The classic movie The Sandlot came out in 1993. Noted for famous lines like “You’re killing me, Smalls,” the film centered around a group of neighborhood kids, all baseball fanatics. Had the producers chosen to make the basketball version, they could easily found the necessary group of kids congregated at the Waynesboro YMCA.

All summer.

The group included me, Ryan Blosser, my first cousins Jeremy Miller and Matt Williams, JR Nicholas and a bunch of others. We arrived at the Y early, and we left late. We all breathed, ate and slept basketball. Of the players named, we all went on to play college hoops.

And while none of us made it to the pros like the Sandlot (sorry for the spoiler alert but it did come out in 1993), we all reminisce about how the YMCA shaped us.

FULL CIRCLE

My whole day changes daily at 2:52 pm.

A group of 30 to 40 kids hop off of the bus – I think it’s bus No. 26 but I could be wrong – and they surround my office at the Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA.  My office space is fairly quiet until they show up … and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Once, I was the kid who ran around the YMCA.

Twenty-eight years later, I’m now the older guy who watches the kids running around the YMCA.

Within that group of 30 to 40 middle schoolers, there’s this group that only wants to play basketball all the time. Kids like Clay, Eli, Levi, Debron, Landon and others. It’s impossible to see them without picturing in mind my summer crew of Blosser, Nicolas and my cousins. Ironically, many of the kids played middle school ball for “Coach Ryan Blosser” this past season.

At 3:03 pm, the cycle repeats itself, only this time it’s high school kids and not middle school kids.  One of the high schoolers – and lanky kid that has about five inches on me – likes to challenge me to games of one-on-one.

I hate playing one-on-one.

It reminds me of the time when colleges just started showing interest in me as a player. Popsicle thought I was getting too big-headed and made me play him one-on-one.

I lost 15-2.

He played left-handed.

He’s really right-handed.

It was one of my most humbling and important basketball experiences.

Back to the current one-on-one game.

It’s important for me to have a good showing in this particular game. I can usually squeak out a win, but I feel like I’ve just completed a half-marathon after a game to seven. Or at least what I think that would feel like. I’ve never completed a half-marathon.

I’m a YMCA employee, so my responsibility is to build kids up. I say things like “Your left hand is getting better, I can tell you you’ve been practicing” or “you’re a much better player than you were three months ago.”

And so I tell Isaiah these things.

I love all the kids at the Y, but this one is different.

“Thanks, dad,” Isaiah says back to me.

It won’t be long before the tables turn and I’m congratulating my son on the win.

Isaiah’s two younger sisters are usually at the YMCA, too. And his two older sisters have been employed by the YMCA.

It’s so surreal to see them growing up in the same organization that helped nurture me.

And not just see it.

But to be part of it.

The YMCA was there for me, making sure I had a place to pursue my dreams.

And now it’s there for my kids.

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