One thing that sets parochial schools apart from every other educational institution is the sense of family felt by all. And when there’s siblings involved — and what Catholic school doesn’t have a few sets of those around – the bonds that form can never be broken.
That’s exactly what Fernando Alvarez set out to experience when he volunteered to coach middle school basketball at St. Theresa School in Little Rock this past season. Alvarez, a graduate of the school, holds many great memories of representing the Cougars.
“I played basketball and soccer from sixth through eighth grade. I loved it,” Fernando said. “(Sports) is what we looked forward to as kids.”
When younger brother Diego started fifth-grade last year, the 27-year-old Alvarez, who works for his family’s La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share the court with his sibling.
“I like to be involved with the school,” he said. “I’m on the diocesan board of education, and I’ve been connected through Catholic schools through that. When the opportunity to coach came up, I just thought it would be something I could do to contribute and to have a good time.”
Fernando, the eldest of five brothers, had plenty of enthusiasm but was short on experience, having never formally coached a youth team before. So, he reached out to another of his siblings, Angel, for an extra set of hands. Together they set out on an adventure with 10 fifth-grade boys, most of whom were dribbling a basketball in organized competition for the first time.
“We wanted to make it a lot of fun, just a lot of laughing at all the silly mistakes we all made,” Fernando said. “Nobody really knew what was going on. It was just a fun experience.
“And at the same time, it was hard because I know I’ve got to teach them all these things. It was a little overwhelming. But I was like, ‘You know what? We’re just going to take this one step at a time, and I’m sure we’ll figure it out.’”
Watching Diego, 11, it’s clear that his game has been sharpened by having older brothers. In fact, Alvarado’s driveway basketball games are legendary, Fernando said. Despite the sibling rivalry, Diego said he was delighted to have his brothers on the sidelines.
“I just felt really happy that they were helping me and other people learn the sport. We learned a lot about the game, a lot about what to do, a lot about the rules,” he said.
“He seemed to enjoy it,” Fernando said. “When the opportunity (to coach) came up, he was the first one to tell me, ‘You should be our coach.’ I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I should.’”
At face value, the squad had its share of growing pains, posting a 2-6 record. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many of the games were close contests, and with each passing week, the team got more confident in their abilities, as did their rookie coaches.
“This season, I learned every kid is different,” Fernando said. “They all respond to different forms of communication. Some like for you to show things to them, some learn verbally, some are more sensitive and don’t like to be called out in practice. Learning how to treat each child according to how he is personally is one area where I’ve grown a lot.”
In the post-season tourney, the Cougars faced a squad bound for the tournament finals and gave them all they could handle. Though ultimately losing (by a scant five points), the team played exceptionally well, capped off by Diego nailing a 3-point basket at the buzzer. It was a small victory, but it ended the season on an exciting note.
“It was fun all year long; everything just went really well,” Diego said. “I am absolutely going to play next year.”
“Angel and I just wanted to help the kids become young men,” Fernando said. “Through sports, you can learn a lot about yourself, learn not to quit, not to give up on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes; you’ve just got to overcome them. Learning together as a team, we all grow together.
“That last game was the highlight of our season. It proved to the kids that you can never give up. You just have to do your best and fight to the end.”
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