Basketball program teaches skills on court, in life
The Palmer Terrors were off to a strong 4-0 start as of Jan. 21. That put the talented sixth-grade squad at the top of its bracket for the 2019 Denver-based Gold Crown Competitive Basketball Program. The silver division pits the Terrors against teams from Littleton, Castle Rock and Parker.
And it all put a grin on Terrell Brown’s face.
“We really have a talented pool of kids,” he said. “There are some kids you’ll be hearing about” in the future.
That’s high praise from a former Division 1 player, one-time El Pomar fellow, multicultural student success coach at Pikes Peak Community College and president and chief executive of an organization dedicated to giving young boys in Southern Colorado Springs critical life skills by teaching them to play basketball.
Brown’s program is called Hillside Connect, and since he launched it in 2017, the organization has trained close to 130 boys through a four-tiered mission that includes clinics, a summer league, community engagement and enrichment.
And while the athletes learn on-court skills, they also learn about things like sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, volunteerism and hard work. Right now, registration is limited to boys, but Brown hopes include girls’ programs as soon as possible.
“There’s a need,” he said. “We’re addressing that need for kids in the community.”
Roots to reality
Brown, 26, grew up playing basketball in Southeast. A graduate of Palmer High School, he was a star of the Colorado courts who was named the 2010-11 5A Metro Player of the Year his senior year.
He continued to play after high school, attending South Dakota State University and Otero Junior College, where he was a standout athlete and team leader for one season.
But it was at Montana State University that Brown hit his collegiate stride and found his calling. In the classroom, Brown was a successful marketing student. On the court, he was a solid utility player. In the community, he strove to connect the university and its young fans.
Then, his senior year, Brown learned he would not be re-signed to the team. With a year to go and just a few hours left to finish his degree, the kid from Southeast was on the verge of losing his scholarship. But Brown persevered and graduated with a degree in business marketing.
He returned to his home court and joined El Pomar Foundation’s 2016 fellowship class. In that role, Brown worked closely with the Southeast Colorado Springs Project, Emerging Leaders Development Program and El Pomar & Denver Broncos Health and Wellness partnership.
While the athletes learn on-court skills, they also learn about things like sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, volunteerism and hard work
And it was there that Hillside Connection was born.
“It was an idea that just took off,” Brown said.
Home court’s advantage
In many ways, the Hillside Community Center, 925 S. Institute St., is Brown’s athletic home. His father Nathan Brown was a basketball coach there from 1999 to 2008, and Terrell Brown credits the program with preventing him from “falling victim to the environment [I] grew up in.”
So Brown wanted to provide the same opportunity to today’s young athletes. Hillside Connection was formed March 12, 2017, and brings together boys in first through sixth grades to develop resiliency, teamwork and leadership skills.
Hillside Connection hosts two annual basketball clinics at the community center and a summer league at Memorial Park. The league draws an average of 60 kids for five weeks (this year’s is scheduled for May 25 through June 22). In addition, elite squads of hard-working athletes are selected to represent the organization in the Rocky Mountain State Games and the Gold Crown tournament.
Kids can also earn enrichment trips to venues like the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Broadmoor World Arena, Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts and Denver Broncos Training Camp.
“Sports is a tool to bring together kids and partners in the community,” Brown said.
But it’s not just about learning a skill or taking an educational field trip. Hillside Connection players also help with community betterment projects, such as painting the court lines or repairing hoops at the Memorial Park basketball courts.
As the program continues to grow, Brown hopes to expand its initiatives to include food-security education and tutoring. And he admits that, for a few young athletes, he has become a male role-model.
“With that comes a great sense of responsibility at a young age,” Brown said. “There are certain things that we do not tolerate. It’s very structured; they have to be accountable.”
If the parent testimonials are any indication, it’s working. One mother wrote on the Hillside Connection website: “My son has become an honor roll student, reliable friend and a better example for other kids in our Southeast community. Hillside Connection is empowering our youth above and beyond the game of basketball!”
Getting in the game
Hillside Connection is powered by a squad of volunteers, board members and community partners. To volunteer or to become a sponsor, email Terrell Brown at hillsideconnectionCOS@gmail.com.
The next Hillside Connection summer basketball league is scheduled for May 25 through June 22 at Memorial Park, 1605 E. Pikes Peak Ave. The league is free and open to boys in fourth through sixth grade, including those who will start seventh grade in the fall. Players receive jerseys, and play is overseen by certified volunteer coaches and referees. The league includes tournament play, community service opportunities and guest speakers. For more details, visit hillsideconnection.org, or follow the organizaiton on Facebook and Instagram.