The boys on the court: OBPAL basketball coaches have mentored, guided local boys for decades

OBPAL's basketball coaches strive to build bridges with their players to help them lead successful lives.

Coaches Steafon Jenkins, James "Pepper" Johnson and Greg Stokes. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
Coaches Steafon Jenkins, James "Pepper" Johnson and Greg Stokes. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
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The Ormond Beach Police Athletic League coaches have spent decades watching boys become young men on the basketball courts of the South Ormond Neighborhood Center. 

To them, basketball is more than just a sport — it's a path to mentorship.

"We provide a safe haven here for them, without a doubt," OBPAL Coach Steafon Jenkins said. "Kids trust that we're going to make sure they're fine here."

Jenkins has been volunteering his time to coach the OBPAL Bruins basketball teams for over 30 years, same as his fellow coach James "Pepper" Johnson. Together with coaches Greg Stokes, Clayton Walden and Avery Randolph, the coaches take on about 30 boys every season. 

The OBPAL Bruins team. Courtesy photo

And yes, the boys learn basketball skills, and learn them well — The Bruins 14U team recently won the Florida Police Athletic League tournament — but the coaches also work to instill the value of getting an education and what it takes to be a good man.

That's important to them. Jenkins, Stokes and Johnson all were raised by their mothers, and because of that, they said they understand the need for a strong support system, and a father figure to look up to. 

"We try to build a whole man — a complete person," Jenkins said.

The best reward? Seeing the kids come back, thank them, and then pay it forward in trying to help the next generation, Johnson said.

"That's the joy about it," he said. "That, when they come back, you know you instilled something special in these young men." 

'We have to build a bridge'

Growing up, Johnson said sports meant a lot to him. 

Johnson, one of Seabreeze High School's all-time leading scorers, said he was blessed to have had good coaches mentor him, Joe Daniels, for which the city renamed SONC, and Walden among them.

Coach James "Pepper" Johnson watches as a player holds the state championship trophy. Courtesy photo

"It's always been a family-based community," Johnson said. "You've got to do the right thing. The stuff that I was taught, it goes a long way in life."

Most of the players play with the team for five or six years.

A program like OBPAL wouldn't work without having parents on board, Stokes said. He's been coaching the team for about 25 years. Established in 1996, OBPAL aims to encourage positive relationships between the police department, local youth and the community through sports and academic programs.

For Stokes, mentorship means guidance. It's being a "substitute parent" when the parents are not around — because it takes a village to raise a child, said Stokes, who is a retired Ormond Beach Police officer and former school resource officer for Ormond Beach Middle School.

"We have to build a bridge, win their confidence, to the point that we become their confidant," Stokes said.

When you build a rapport, the kids are more open to sharing things that will help the coaches in guiding them, Jenkins said. Some of their players go through things most people wouldn't be able to imagine, he added;. 

Their mission is to help these boys keep "on the straight and narrow," Jenkins said.

"Around every corner there can be trouble, and what we do is try have conversations to let them know what's coming, because we already know — we've been there done that," Jenkins said. "... That's the main thing, just help them grow up to be productive in society."

Saving lives

When the boys are under their care, they're their fathers, Johnson said.

That may mean making sure they have the proper gear to play – shoes, socks, whatever they need. The coaches pay for it out of their own pockets.

"None of us are rich," Jenkins said. "But we've been down that road, so we understand not having."

The coaches don't have to worry about funding for the program. In 2023, local developer Paul Holub pledged an annual $30,000 donation to the organization for the next 20 years. This covers the team's expenditures, from hotel rooms and transportation when traveling to away games, to taking the boys out to dinner.

The OBPAL Bruins team show off their championship rings. Courtesy photo

The only thing the coaches want is for the boys to be successful, Stokes said. That may mean attending college or getting a good paying job.

"That's our reward," Stokes said. "We look back, 'Okay, I had a hand in that kid's life.' Whether you're digging ditches or whether you're in the NBA or NFL, it doesn't matter as long as you're doing the right thing."

Through the years, players have gone on to play football or basketball at the university level. Some have reached the NBA.

When the kids make their school's basketball teams in high school, the coaches try to be at their games. 

Johnson said his wife used to tell him that if he could save one kid every season, he's doing a great job.

"She said, 'You're not going to be able to save them all, but do the best you can and save as many as you can," Johnson said.

They coach and mentor the boys that come through the doors of SONC because they care, Jenkins said.

"We want the kids to thrive," he said. "We don't care — race, creed or color — when you come in those doors, we take care of you."

The OBPAL Bruins 14U team won the state PAL tournament in March. Courtesy photo


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