It's How They Play the Game

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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 7, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Coach Leroy Allen looked proudly at his players and reminded them of why they had come to Florida.

"We had three goals: to enjoy ourselves, have fun and to play hard," Allen said. "We did those things, and by doing that, we were successful."

That his Mitchellville Trailblazers of the Amateur Athletic Union's Potomac Valley Division basketball league had taken the third-place trophy in the national competition for 9-and-under roundballers was secondary. They had had a chance to bask in the Florida sun, splash around in hotel pools, catch up on Madden NFL 06 video game matches, eat at restaurants and spend some quality time with their families and teammates.

That, to Allen, was as important as snagging a trophy.

Allen, 41, of Upper Marlboro, has spent countless hours this year balancing basketball education with character building. A longtime basketball player himself, Allen said he believes that the best lessons children learn from sports have nothing to do with how well they play.

"I want them to learn how to play the game, but you also want them to have fun," Allen said. "I want them to learn how to work together to accomplish a goal. I want them to be respectful of each other and adults. This is about teaching. They are kids first and basketball players second."

Using Basketball

The Mitchellville Trailblazers are the latest in a series of basketball undertakings for Allen, a father of two boys. His own interest in the sport began when he played for the Catholic Youth Organization as a student at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Southeast Washington. At DeMatha High School, he played for legendary Coach Morgan Wootten, learning the life lessons for which Wootten is famous. His DeMatha career brought a full athletic scholarship to Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y., where he earned a degree in business management.

"Coach Wootten always said: 'Use basketball. Don't let basketball use you,' " Allen said. "I used it to get my education, get jobs and to see parts of the world I wouldn't have gotten to see."

After college, Allen used his basketball acumen and connections to land a series of coaching jobs, including posts at the University of the District of Columbia and at Eleanor Roosevelt and Bishop McNamara high schools in Prince George's. For day jobs, he worked as a financial aid counselor at American University, Strayer College and Bowie State before becoming assistant director of financial aid at the University of Maryland University College.

After several years away from coaching, his interest was rekindled after his elder son, Tyler, began playing AAU basketball four years ago. Allen began by helping other coaches, then decided to start his own team. In the meantime, he started basketball programs for men and boys at Woodstream Church in Mitchellville, where he is a deacon. He had proposed to his wife, Arlene, at the church when it was Landover Memorial Baptist, and they were married there.

Basketball is a major force in the Allen household. Tyler, now 11 and a sixth-grader at Riverdale Baptist School, plays on an 11-and-under team. Terrell, 9, is a point guard for the Blazers.

The Allens' summer vacations this year centered on AAU tournaments. They spent a week in Winston-Salem, N.C., in July when Allen's 10-and-unders competed in the national championship. They were in Cocoa Beach, Fla., for a week to see Tyler's team compete in the nationals in its age category. They went to Lake Buena Vista, a stone's throw from Orlando, last month when the Blazers competed in the 9-and-under championship games at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.


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