Sportsmanlike conduct: Tech’s Elisha Boone reflects on summer in Puerto Rico
Elisha Boone grew up all over New York City – Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. He decided to get away for a while and started looking at schools outside of the state. He found out about Tech and thought he’d just drop by to check it out.
"I was looking for a new home after my old school,” he said. “I fell in love with Tech after my first visit. I cancelled all my other visits and made my commitment."
The 22-year-old sport management major said he feels at home here. He’s made friends. He even landed the Mr. Golden Bear homecoming king spot during this year’s Homecoming festivities. He’s also a shooting guard on the men’s basketball team, where he gets to play the sport he loves.
He said that basketball has taken him to places he never imagined. It helped to bring him to Tech. It also took him to Puerto Rico, where he experienced something that changed the way he sees the world.
Over the summer, Boone teamed up with the faith-based group Athletes in Action. They put together a team of college players from around the nation for a three-week program; one week training together in Florida and then two weeks in Puerto Rico.
The group spent their days working with children during a series of basketball skills camps. Kids ages 5-11 learned the basics of the sport as they worked alongside the visiting college students.
"We did that three or four times. We did another camp in an arena and it was at least 200 kids. We demonstrated some basic skills like ball-handling, shooting and passing. It was good. It was such a good experience,” he said.
For Boone, working with these youngsters was an altogether eye-opening experience. Many of them had faced extreme poverty. Some had even been the victims of abuse.
“We went to a foster home for kids. There were kids that were physically and sexually abused,” he said.
“It was one of the saddest things I've ever seen in my life, to see how hurt a kid that's only two years old can be. That they understand what it is to be hurt and what it is to hate at such a young age.”
So he put his energy into helping them learn the sport that gave him so much to look forward to in life. There’s a powerful social aspect to shooting hoops that can give players a sense of community. And for Boone, there’s a healing element to the game, too.
"I sometimes used to use basketball as a way to get away and clear my mind. Or as a way to be with myself and my thoughts. It gives these kids something to put their time into or to use as motivation. It gives them an outlet and it inspires them to work hard and to be great at something,” he said.
Outside of the camps, Boone spent time with the children and within the community.
"We hosted a foot-washing and feeding day. We had people come in and we washed their feet. We prayed with them. They ate with us and we got to learn about their lives,” he said.
"It was a humbling experience,” he said. “It changed the way I look at things and the way I'm looking at life. I'm more appreciative of everything I have now.”
Boone said his single greatest experience was an interaction with a shy two-year old from the foster home.
“It took her 15 minutes to trust me and say 'Okay, he's not going to hurt me.’ Then she put her hand in mine. I spend some time with her there, and that was probably the most memorable moment of that trip,” he said.
The visiting players also spent some time on the court, playing against semi-professional teams from the region. Boone was fascinated with the experience. He wants to play professionally and then ultimately go into coaching where he can give back, and could easily see himself following that path to Puerto Rico.
After his trip, Boone kept in touch with a few of the folks he met. When Hurricane Maria devastated the region in September, he said he spent weeks praying for their safety as he tried to reach them. (He did, and they’re okay.)
In all, Boone said the experience is something he’ll never forget. He plans to return in the future.
"Whether it's professionally or just to visit them again, either way, I'll be back,” he said.
Elisha Boone is one of the many Golden Bears giving back. If you’re a student or employee and you want to get involved in the community, get in touch with WVU Tech’s office of Service & Learning.