Nykierra Scott and Ashiana Scott (not related) are 8th graders at the Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School, and they are winners. They are both on the school’s Honor Roll and have been for the past 3 terms. They play on the middle school’s outstanding basketball team, the Lady Canes (short for Hurricanes).
According to Coach Wes Estock, “ The Lady Canes completed a successful 2017-18 campaign. They capped off a perfect 16-0 season with the I-95 Championship, defeating St. George Middle School in a 43-32 victory. The team was also crowned the Colleton County Christmas Tournament Champs for the second time in three years and I-95 Regular Season League Champs.”
So far as I can tell, there are four reasons why these girls and the other members of their team: Farrah Doe, Janiyah Chaneyfield, Kayona Deloach, Lataye Walker, Daisy Taylor, Nia King, Deanna Douglas, Tatyana Heyward, Jalasia Polite, Mikaila Darien, and Makayla Fields are winners.
First, Coach Estock, who moved South from Pennsylvania three years ago, teaches history at the middle school. He is a terrific motivator, setting high standards and enforcing them. He and one of his assistant coaches, Angel Spencer, decided three years ago when they started coaching, that they needed to establish a winning culture. Their mission revolves around Faith, Family, Education and Friends. Estock is always on the lookout for athletic girls in 7th or 8th grade. He does not limit himself to girls who are already successful in school. When he sees a girl who might benefit his team, he takes that girl aside and talks to her about playing. The overwhelming number of girls on his teams have never played basketball before.
Nykierra Scott admits, “After the second day of tryouts I went up to Coach Estock’s room and told him that I quit. He talked to me for about a half hour about everything but basketball. He even told me if I didn’t want to learn to play, I should not try to join the team because you can only be a good player if you love the sport enough to work very hard. After that, I decided I didn’t want to let Coach down, so I stayed on. He works us really hard at practice and that’s why we win. My first year, when we were in 7th grade, we didn’t know how to play. We were 3 and 11, awful! But now we are champions.”
Estock keeps after his team. He checks their grades almost every day and uses his planning periods to tutor anyone who is not doing well.
In addition to coaching the Lady Canes, he coaches a Travel Team (AAU - Amateur Athletic Union) that spends many weekends during the off-season, from February to July, playing teams from all around the South. The parents help with the driving and Estock makes sure when they play on a college campus, that everyone tours the college. When they play in a city, like Nashville, he takes all the families into town and shows them around. Estock knows how important it is for his girls to have new experiences.
The second ingredient necessary for success is family. Both girls come from families that value hard work, good grades, being responsible, being respectful and making the most of opportunities. Families tell the girls they are proud of them and make their children’s success a priority.
When I expressed concern about the expense of playing on the Travel Team, where parents must pay for gas, food and even hotel rooms, Estock explained that, “For the most part families pay their way and if a girl can’t afford the travel costs, that’s where our fundraising kicks in.” He smiles and shrugs when he adds, “That’s what my tax refund goes to, but these people have become my family.”
The third ingredient is making the connection between your own effort and your own success. The Lady Canes are not afraid to get dirty, sweaty or even hurt on the court. They’ve been scratched, shoved and even, on one occasion, bitten. Ashiana and Nykierra agree that many of their classmates want to be “pretty girls” who care deeply about their hair and their nails. They don’t want to get sweaty and dirty. “The Lady Canes are pretty girls, but not when we are playing basketball,” the two insist. They continue, “When you are wearing that shirt with your name on it and your number on the back, people expect more of you and you don’t want to disappoint them.”
I asked the girls how they react when they feel a referee has made a bad call against their team. They explained, “We are there to play the best basketball we can. We are not refs and we can’t do anything about the refs. Our job is to play good ball.”
The last ingredient in becoming a success is very hard to define. It’s that special something- a mixture of determination, pride, talent and courage. It’s a willingness and maybe even the strength, to try something new and work at it until you master it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a little good luck.