On April 8th, Ascend Together held an open court event at the YMCA in Kanifeng. Open to the community as well as Ascend students, the event was an opportunity for young basketball players to participate in dribbling, passing, and shooting drills with Ascend coaches. After three hours of basketball in the rising heat, Ascend staff called it a day and invited the young athletes to sit in the shade and enjoy an egg sandwich. The staff had a surprise: the first ever Student-Athlete of the Month announcements!
The Student-Athlete of the Month awards are intended to recognize the Ascend students who have shown the highest degree of dedication to their studies and to basketball. Each month, Ascend coaches and tutors will recognize one student from St. Theresa’s Upper Basic School and one student from Kotu Senior Secondary School to receive the award, which includes a certificate and a new pair of basketball shoes. Coaches and tutors look at a student’s attendance and punctuality, active participation in the tutoring and basketball sessions, improvement, teamwork, and leadership. Since this was the first ever announcement of the awards, the excitement among the students was palpable.
With students and coaches creating a drumroll by slapping their hands to their thighs, the announcements were made:
“For St. Theresa’s, the Student-Athlete of the Month is…. Doudou Sanneh.” The students erupted in jubilant cheer mixed with a few playful jests. Doudou is young, only in grade eight, so he’s due a few jabs from his older peers. “And for Kotu, the Student-Athlete of the Month is…. Haddijatou Ceesay.” More jubilant cheers, but no jabs this time, Haddijatou owned it hands down.
When asked about winning the award, Haddijatou responded with humility. "I felt good to be chosen among the rest as the best athlete of the month, but I felt lucky as well because there are others who are as serious and improved like me. Ascend have built my confidence, I am naturally a shy girl but with the help of Ascend programming from tutoring (presentations), group work, peer tutoring to leading drills and warm ups at basketball sessions. All this have shaped me to be a good athlete”.
“It's a love affair between me and basketball, sometimes I thought, how happy could I be without basketball. I thank Ascend Together and all our wonderful coaches, tutors and my fellow students”.
Doudou is younger and a little shy when it comes to answering questions about winning the award. It didn’t help that he was still finishing his egg sandwich when his name was called, prompting his peers to give him the typical Gambian jab that he eats too much. He’s been playing basketball for only one year but says he wants to play in the Gambian Basketball Association’s adult league, “preferably for the YMCA team.” He says when he grows up he wants to be a government minister for Youth and Sports. When asked how he will achieve the lofty goal, he gives a shy smile and says “study hard and pass my exams.” He wasn’t quite as shy when it came time for pictures.