It’s been nearly three months since the Coastal Crew Rebels lost their beloved coach and mentor Ernie Walthour, who was killed July 1 during an apparent armed robbery. While his murder remains unsolved, many Rebels coaches are striving to keep his memory alive by picking up his planning duties.
Simon Steele and Delano Mathews, the Rebels’ seventh-grade coaches, are trying to raise funds so the seventh-grade squad can travel next season, just like Walthour’s elite squad did each year. Mathews said the seventh-graders want to compete at major events in Chicago, New York and Orlando. The Rebels also are looking to host a home tournament this year.
“We want to carry on (Walthour’s) legacy,” Mathews said. “This will be brand new (for this age group) … this will be something they are not used to. The older kids got to do things like this, and this would be something like the trips that Ernie put together, and I think people will be shocked to see something like this happen without him being in place anymore … he is not here with us but he left an impact and drive in us to continue to do these things. This is something he would want to see happen.”
“When I was young, there was somebody there for me,” Steele said. “I had a mentor to help me out and push me, and so now that I’m older it is my turn to give back to the community. I didn’t have a father influence in my life, and many of the kids on our team don’t have a father’s influence at home or those that do, their father are deployed. It’s my turn to give back … and we try and mentor these kids and keep them doing something positive and it makes the community a safer place as well.”
Steele said many Rebels viewed Walthour as a father figure, and the loss hit several young players hard.
“One kid in particular … was one of those kids who was having issues at school, having problems and troubles,” Steele said about one of his seventh-grade players. “And Ernie was willing to be patient and work with him through the process. He was very adamant about keeping that young man around … He (the player) took the loss pretty tough because it became more personal to him. Ernie became more of a father figure to him, so he took it pretty tough, but he also used it as motivation. We went to nationals, and he used it as motivation to improve his game and work hard.”
Steele said now is a good time to reach out to the seventh-graders.
“This is a great time to mold them in the game of basketball, and as far as reaching them and mentoring them to grow up to be respectable young men, this is a good age to reach them,” Steele said. “They still listen and they don’t think that they know everything. Once they hit the ages between 15 and 17, it is more difficult to try and shape them into the way they should go. At that point, they do think they know everything and are not as willing to listen.”
Mathews said basketball scouts start to look at players around seventh grade and begin ranking them.
“So if we continue to train each child and help them attain an academic or sports scholarship, that is something we preach: You train hard you study hard … it is very important to start now so they can have a better future,” Mathews said.
The coaches said they are planning to host another large-scale home tournament. Last season’s tourney helped raise money to take the seventh-grade boys to nationals and other tournaments.
“We hosted our own tournament at St. James, and we ended up coming up in first place, going 4-0,” Steele said. “We went to the (Youth Basketball of America) state championship, where we placed third overall in state. We went to the national tournament in Orlando and took second place, and two of our kids made the all-star team and a third won the hustle award. We took two days off and went to the national tournament in Myrtle Beach, and we came in second in the classic division.”
Mathews said the seventh-grade team mostly is made up of players from Snelson-Golden and Lewis Frasier middle schools.
“We talked a lot (Ernie and I) … we talked about the children all the time. We talked about things in his life that he wanted us to be a part of,” Mathews said. “I was impressed with how all the children were a magnet to him and not just the Rebels. The kids at Youth Challenge and (First Presbyterian Christian Academy) … he had a huge impact on the community, and I made him my personal role model. I want to be supportive to the children just like he was. Whatever we asked him for, he was right on it and the kids never went without.”
The seventh-grade Rebels are looking for sponsors to help cover travel expenses for their upcoming season. For more information, call Delano Mathews at 432-2499 or Simon Steele at 610-0435. Check donation should be made payable to St. James Youth Services.