COLUMBIA — Six Douglass High School basketball players practice slam dunks after practice.
“They’re waiting around for one of the coaches to give them a ride home,” Lynn Allen said.
Douglass, Columbia’s alternative high school for at-risk students, is home to the Bulldogs basketball team coached by Allen and Scott Williams.
The high student turnover rate — the average player spends about a year and a half at Douglass — makes it difficult to build a basketball program.
But Allen and Williams provide some stability and consistency, having faithfully coached the Bulldogs together for the past 14 years.
“The team is about more than basketball. It turns into a close knit family,” Allen said.
They’ve extended their roles beyond the court, coaching each player in more than just basketball.
“Shucks, our guys struggle having shoes, even proper gym shorts,” Williams said. “We pick them up for practice, we take them home. We make sure they’ve had a decent meal, provide socks, clothes, you name it.”
At an alternative school they coach alternatively, facilitating team building by shifting the starting lineup.
“A lot of coaches start who will win, but we don’t preach winning. We’ve been mixing up the starters so the guys can get to know each other,” Williams said.
And from this team, a family has been formed.
“We’ve come together as a brotherhood, as a family. We’re more than just a basketball team,” said sophomore James Hughes, who is the team's leading scorer.
“Coach Williams takes me places and we talk about me as a player and a person,” Hughes said. “We go out to eat, to different gyms. Nowhere real big, but he’s always there when I need him.”
Douglass competes in District 7, home to four of the past five state champions in Class 2, and one of the toughest districts in the state. They are up against programs where players have been coached since early childhood.
Many players at Douglass have to be taught the basics, lacking fundamentals taught in youth sports.
The team even undergoes roster changes mid-season as players gain and lose academic eligibility each semester. This year, six players gained eligibility at the end of the semester, and four lost it.
Still, the Bulldogs have formed a capable team and boast an 8-3 record.
“We have a talented team and we want to win, but that’s not the most important thing,” Williams said.
“We try to teach the guys how to be positive citizens on and off the court, and hopefully they carry that over into life after basketball.”
The coaches also work with the players academically, checking their grades weekly.
“They’re not all looking to go past high school, but basketball helps get them through Douglass,” Williams said.
Through one-on-one relationships, the coaches gain their players' trust and respect.
“It’s a long process of building trust. We try to set an example as coaches and always be there for them,” Allen said.