In the fading afternoon sun, a young man stands on a basketball court with four young children excitedly running around him.
Minutes pass and the four children multiply until more than 30 are bouncing around his ankles with endless energy, seemingly immune to the day’s freezing conditions.
The man unzips the bag at his feet, pulls out a basketball and says: “Okay guys it’s time to start! Split up into two groups and form a line at half court.”
The children sprint off down the court and the young man draws an old silver whistle to his mouth.
His name is Steve Bacash, the head coach at Helping Hoops Richmond.
He gives his whistle a soft toot capturing the children’s attention and yells “okay guys let’s start off with a little warm up, give me two suicides!”
Helping Hoops is a charity dedicated to running free basketball programs for underprivileged children.
What started in 2009 as a single program in Footscray now delivers more than 450 free basketball sessions to more than 1000 children of all abilities, ages 7 to 21.
Steve first became interested in helping underprivileged youths while volunteering with The Big Issue.
“I was helping out with a street soccer program, which I had heard about through my days playing street basketball in high school, but felt like I couldn’t really help the kids out because I never played soccer.”
“So, when I heard about the opportunity to actually coach basketball and teach kids a sport that I knew the fundamentals in, I jumped at the chance.”
Steve started volunteering in 2013 and was promoted to head coach in 2015.
“I first started volunteering with Helping Hoops six years ago and then two years ago an opportunity came up to coach but our executive director Adam McKay was a bit reluctant to give me the role.”
“He said that he thought I would always be a bit more of a sidekick and that burned in my soul a little bit. However, I didn’t show it and I knew I had more to give.”
“They ended up giving the role to another African American dude with a lot of experience, but about six months later that didn’t work out so they gave me the job.”
“Two years on and I’m now doing four programs in Richmond, Croxton, Prahran and North Melbourne teaching the fundamentals of basketball to more than 150 kids a week.”
Steve is an easy going character and this relaxed, happy-go-lucky approach clearly comes through in the clinics with the focus on the kids having a good time rather than driving the technical development of basketball skills.
“At Helping Hoops we’re not here to turn these kids into champion basketballers, we’re here to create a feeling of community and instil values like teamwork, respect and interpersonal skills.”
“I layer the program because if it’s all basketball most of the kids won’t stay interested.”
“I try to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to speak and be heard because a lot of these kids come from challenging families so I think it’s important to give them a space where they feel they have a voice.”
The energy and excitement on court is palpable, it’s clear the kids respond well to Steve’s approach as he orchestrates the mayhem with carefully timed bursts of his whistle.
Long-time Richmond Helping Hoops volunteer Meredith Oldhan says that Steve is an excellent mentor for the children.
“He’s a bit of a king of the kids when they are all out on court.”
“Tonight is a perfect example, we’re getting buffeted by freezing gusts, pelted with ice cold rain and it’s the first day back for lots of schools and there’s still at least 35 kids down here to shoot some hoops!”
“Steve thrives in this organised chaos and the smiles he puts on the kids’ faces at the end of each session always make it completely worthwhile,” says Meredith.
Helping Hoops executive director Adam McKay said that the work Steve does running four training sessions each week is invaluable.
“Each week Steve runs four different programs Wednesday to Saturday spread out across Richmond, North Melbourne, Prahran and Croxton, and at every one of the programs he knows every kids name and takes a genuine interest in who they are as people.”
“It’s only through the generosity of our dedicated coaches like Steve that we are able to reach as many people as we do.”
For Steve, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.
“Initially I found it difficult because you have to give so much of yourself and it can be difficult working out what kind of person these kids need you to be.”
“But after a while, you reach this level where you understand what you’re here to do and that’s when you really start to pick up on how rewarding [it is] working with these kids and watching them grow and develop into young adults.”
“At the end of the day these are great kids who just like anyone else need to be guided, nurtured and supported, and it’s an amazing feeling to be able to provide that to some of these kids.”
Helping Hoops is a not for profit orginisation dedicated to helping underprivileged children achieve their full potential through competitive sport.
More information on Helping Hoops can be found here.
Written by Joseph Regan