North End basketball league combines life skills training with sports
October 25 TO November 1, 2006
By The Hartford News Staff
This year the Nelton Court Basketball League (NCBL) took on a new name, the Northeast Commu¬nity Basketball League (NCBL). The initials may be the same, but the league now offers a lot more than basketball.
“My program has grown to heights where seeing is believing. In the ‘hood’ [Nelton Court] the games were good but the area was bad,” said NCBL Commissioner Shawn “Smooth” Bell. “So I had to rethink how to get something different for these young athletes. My staff and I decided that we had simply outgrown Nelton Court. 80 percent of the players in the league didn’t live in Nelton Court.”
Bell also said that Nelton Court has gained a bad reputation, primarily due to a lot of negative publicity in the press. “The sad thing is Nelton Court isn’t a bad area, it’s the people outside of it that frequent it and cause disturbances,” said Bell.
To revamp the league, Bell began working with Lee Hunt of the Blue Hills Civic Association. He was also able to obtain full use of the Kelvin Anderson Community Center from the City of Hartford Human Services Department.
Bell also decided to that the NCBL should be about more than just basketball.
“The majority of the kids that come through my league have aspirations of going to college. That’s why the teams in the league are named after colleges. What hit me then was the notion of implementing instruction in life and social skills that would benefit the kids and give them the heads up on what’s on the horizon,” said Bell.
With the help of others, Bell put together life skill modules that the players would have to attend in order to play in the league.
“The kids were pretty hesitant at first, especially as the first module was called , ‘What’s Wrong.’ But the feedback that I got from the kids was astounding, not only are these kids up on what’s going on their ideas on how to solve it was more astounding,” he said.
According to Bell, the rules for the new program are strict. If a player missed a module before his next game, he was suspended for that game. A second miss and he was suspended a week. And a third time and he was out of the league.
Bell tried to bring in others to teach the life skills to members of the league but most had prior commitments. Eventually, he decided to do it himself. “Who better to give the life skill modules than myself? I’m a product of this environment. I was faced with the same peer pressure that many of these kids are faced with everyday. I looked into the face of both directions , good and bad. But I had the love for sports and a strong family backing that wouldn’t let me steer in the wrong direction. So I went to college, and now I’m living a prosperous, middle class life,” he said.
The first Module in the NCBL life skills course is an introduction. Module two deals with time management and decision making. Module three covers personal hygiene and appearance, and Module Four explores college preparation and job seeking.
In order to be eligible for the tournament, youngsters must complete all 4 modules.
“I was lenient in that area as I let a lot of kids make up modules who happened to have been away with AAU or some other summer camp” said Bell.
Although the NCBL is located in a distressed neighborhood, Bell said, “I’ve been the commissioner of the league since 1996 and with God as my witness, I’ve never had anything near to an “incident” other than maybe a little pushing and shoving between competitors that takes place in any youth sports league, whether it’s in Greenwich or the North End of Hartford.”
Bell credits the NCBL’s staff for maintaining the safe environment. “My staff is on point. They are there for me. My staff, the tenant association, my table crew, my setup crew, my coaches make sure these kids do the right thing,” he said.
The NCBL consists of 16 teams, eight for boys 8-13 and another eight for boys ages 14-17. All teams are named after colleges. There were also two girls teams that played in the City of Hartford girls league.
The league always starts the week day after the 4th of july. For more information on the NCBL, call Bell at 860-212-5431.