Teaching Life Lessons Through Basketball at Piccolo Middle School

By Injury Attorney Thomas Grace

Basketball has been a part of my life since I was nine years old.  I built my early friendships on the driveway playing basketball from sun up to sun down.  I learned to compete, I learned how to win and certainly how to lose.  The game taught me how to work with others and how to be responsible and accountable to others.

Those same lessons translated for me into the classroom.  I knew it was okay to work hard and to want a better grade in my classes than my friends.  I set goals for myself, pushed myself to achieve them, and learned from my mistakes when I fell short.  Competing honestly and with integrity was okay, basketball taught me not only that competing hard was okay, but how to do it.  Along the way, I developed confidence and a sense of self-worth that permeated all aspects of my life.

There is a certain honesty about sport that is unique.  I learned that once I stepped on the court, it was not long before the game rewarded my hard work and preparation, but the game also exposed my weaknesses just as quickly.  I had to take ownership of my level of play.  Basketball taught me the importance of hard work and preparation.  Hard work always pays off.  Not always in the way I anticipated or when I expected, but hard work always pays off.  Basketball taught me that lesson over and over again.

I never achieved great success as a basketball player.  But I tried, I completely committed to being the best player I could be.  I approached basketball with passion and with no fear of failure.  And I loved every minute I was on the court.

I took what basketball taught me and applied it to my studies, to my career, and to all aspects of my life.  As I grew older, I found other ways to feed my competitive nature.  Ultimately, I became an attorney and traded the basketball court for the courtroom.  Even in the new venue, I had to be prepared and worked harder than I ever had before.

I do not know how I would have stayed focused and on the right path without the lessons from basketball.  I would have been lost, adrift, without it.  When Glen Lerner challenged the attorneys in his Chicago law firm, Glen Lerner Injury Attorneys, to give back to the communities in Chicago, I immediately turned to what I know, basketball.  The firm is built around its client relationships and from its founder’s insatiable desire to help people.  Glen makes community outreach a priority and demands that those around him also make it a priority.

I have coached youth basketball for 7 years.  I have coached in more than 150 competitive youth basketball games in tournaments in Chicago, Austin and Houston, Texas, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. With all due respect to the Cubs’ recent accomplishments, Chicago is a basketball town and Michael Jordan is still its hero.  Chicago high schools have produced some of the NBA’s greatest players, many hall of fame players and coaches.  Despite that history, funding of the Chicago Public Schools is so strained, that even the city’s basketball programs struggle to get what they need.  Combined with the gun violence in Chicago’s west side that has made national news, young ballers are having a tough time.

With the help of Triple Threat Mentoring, I was fortunate to connect with Piccolo Middle School in Chicago’s west side and meet some fantastic educators, Erin Lauesen and Michael Abello.  Erin is a teacher, administrator and a coach.  Michael is the principal at the school.  They are on the front lines, fighting for young boys and girls and their futures.  They welcomed me into their school and allowed me to teach basketball to the young players at the school.  I worked with them in their practices, conducted Saturday morning skills clinics and helped coach some of their games.

Time on the court with these young players is food for my soul.  There is simply nothing comparable to helping a young player learn something new and watch them incorporate what they have learned into their game, and achieve new success.  Basketball was instrumental to my development as a man, and these young players cannot, must not, be denied that same opportunity.  Neither a city budget crisis, nor the ever presence of senseless violence can be permitted to interfere in the chance of Chicago’s young boys and girls to play and compete in the game of basketball.  I can’t fix the problems on Chicago’s west side, but I can teach young boys and girls how to shoot a basketball.

I was fortunate enough to see the boys and girls at Piccolo Middle School compete this past winter through their basketball season.  But when their season ended, the school had no funds for a celebration of the players’ commitment and achievement.  Winter sports banquets happened across the city, I even attended my own son’s basketball banquet at his high school in a Chicago suburb.  But there was nothing planned at Piccolo Middle School.  I could not accept that and neither could Glen.

Thankfully, Glen Lerner Injury Attorneys and its outreach program, Glen Lerner Gives Back, stepped up and provided what the school and the players needed – A Basketball Banquet.  It was nothing fancy, pizza, pasta and salad from a local favorite pizza parlor, Beggars Pizza.  When I explained what we were doing, Beggars gave us a substantial discount on all the food.  We also provided 44 trophies and medals from a local trophy and sign company, Crown Trophy.  They were happy to help select quality items to commemorate the season for the boys and girls.

Together, the players, parents, teachers and coaches celebrated their basketball season.  For an hour or two, one middle school on Chicago’s west side had a party and applauded each other and their accomplishments.  I was honored and humbled to be a small part of it.

Basketball has always been and always will be an invaluable tool to teach critical life skills.  And thanks to my boss’ refreshing and unique commitment to community outreach, and the help of a couple of local businesses, basketball will continue to teach important life lessons to the ballers at Piccolo Middle School.