By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It was not all about basketball on a hardtop outdoor court on Tuesday at the Wade Center in Bluefield.
It was about having fun, concentrating on doing a task, and learning about respect.
The head coach of the state champion Bluefield High School boys basketball team, Buster Large, along with veteran Mercer County coach Jeff Boyles and two Bluefield Beaver varsity players, worked with several dozen children after giving them a little talk at lunchtime.
“The greatest thing about this is that everybody’s laughing, enjoying things and having fun,” Large said as he watched Boyles and his players conducting a simple drill. “It’s a great feeling for us as coaches, personally, to come out and help these kids.”
“As coaches and teachers, that’s part of our job, to educate.”
Boyles said, “For those of us who are fortunate enough to participate in athletics, it’s important to give back. When I was their age, somebody helped me. ... Somebody showed even the greatest athletes — Michael Jordan, somebody showed him how to cross over with the ball.”
He watched as Bluefield High’s Dakota Smalls and Corey Coppola helped keep the children on task. “Here’s two high-school kids — they’re to be commended for coming down here,” Boyles said. “And these kids, too. They could be doing other things.”
Beyonka Lee, 9, of Bluefield said she was “excited to learn” from the visitors, who she said were “nice people.” She said her favorite part of playing basketball was being on defense.
Gullianni Leggett, 10, of Bluefield said she picked up advice about dribbling the ball. “It was fun, in that I could learn to play basketball a little better,” she said.
Jessica McDaniel, director of the Wade Center, said it was “critical” to have the men talk to the children.
“These kids need to have those male role models,” she said. “A lot of the time they don’t have that.”
Coppola said, “Some of these kids look up to us.”
McDaniel said that while the children had their lunchtime, the coaches spoke about “respecting people in authority. They said when adults fuss at you, it’s often because they care about you. It was a really positive talk.”
“The kids were really attentive,” she said. “The coaches talked about how they grew up in different situations, but they completed school and graduated.
“They said the students need to listen so they can excel in school, complete school and have the possibility of going on to college.”
Boyles said, “I told them to thank these people (who work at the center) every day ... because not everybody has opportunities like this.”
Large said, “There’s a lot of good they can achieve in their life. And there’s a lot of bad they need to stay away from.”
The enrollment at the Wade Center currently runs “probably in the upper 70s,” McDaniel said, noting that there is now a waiting list for potential attendees. The children range in age from kindergarten through middle school.
During the summer, mission teams from within West Virginia and from “all over the country” help out at the Wade Center, she said.
But on the week of the Fourth of July, none were available, so she called Large.
“She really needed some players and adults as role models,” Large said. “It’s a great day to come out and help. The community’s been so good to us.”
Coppola said about Large, “He has a big heart for doing this. He loves the community. The community supported us, so we wanted to support the community.”
Smalls said, “It’s good to help little kids who want to play basketball.” Even at a young age, Smalls was attending basketball camps in the Bluefields, and he recalled the positives of those early efforts.
“It’ll teach them work ethic,” he said. “It’ll teach them fundamentals they can work on. Eventually, they’ll be the ones in high school, trying to win a state championship.”
Coppola said, “We could be developing future basketball stars here in Bluefield. ... All of us high school players started out the same place as they are. The older high school players helped us out when we were little.”
Large said, “You never know what might spark an interest. They may never have picked up a basketball before, but they’re out here, learning in the sun. ... What they learn today and tomorrow will stay with them a long time.”
Boyles said about the Wade Center students, “If they learn something from this, it’s great. If they don’t learn a lot about basketball, maybe they’ve learned something about being a member of a team, or about finishing when you’re behind.”
“It’s a lot more than basketball skills.”
Large and other members of the Beavers team are slated return to the center for more work with the children today.
— Contact Tom Bone at