Cristo Rey plays with heart, no home

The day after Thanksgiving, the Cristo Rey Boston High School boys basketball team were hard at work, preparing for a fresh season with brand new coach Jim Ebersole. Training alongside some members of the Marr Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester, the Knights stretched, ran drills and scrimmaged on another court that, unfortunately, is not their own.

In its transformation from North Cambridge Catholic High School (NCCHS) to Cristo Rey (“Christ the King”) Boston, the school adopted not only a new name but also a new location at the former St. William School on Savin Hill Ave., a more convenient and central spot for their students, 68 percent of whom are Boston residents with the highest concentration hailing from Dorchester, Roxbury East Boston, and Mattapan.

In the move, the school gained a new building but lost its athletics home facility, the Cambridge Amory. Though an entire season of away games lays before the team, athletes, coaches and administrators have faith that a new home court will be found.

After a rough 2009-2010 season, finishing with a 1-19 record, the Knights have many players back, including seniors in their final year, hoping to power themselves to a championship in March.

As the NCCHS Panthers two years ago, the team won the state title, beating Georgetown, 85-50. Senior Darlington Ejelonu, wearing a weighted vest during the post-Turkey Day workout, says, “I’m excited because this is our last year; I’m trying to get back to the Garden, y’know, we haven’t been there in a while. So this is gonna be a great year.”

The team faces competitive opponents in the Catholic Central League, including Archbishop Williams, Cardinal Spellman, Austin Prep and their rival Cathedral.

“It’s like a whole new year for us. We have a whole new school and, to me, it feels like the team is brand new. We have a new coach and we have a lot of returning players but everything still seems new to me. I’m excited for this year,” says senior Eldair Teixeira.

Principles, values, communication and discipline are part of Ebersole’s outlook for a successful squad.
“You gotta get consistency in those things; then, that’ll define us as a basketball team,” he says, adding that these four elements should apply on all levels for his players, on and off the court, including in the classroom, workplace, school and home.

Together, the team and Ebersole aim to establish the school’s identity, create consistency and find a place they can call home. The search for a home court is in progress, but it’s an uphill battle.

“We’re making it work,” says Emily Norton, Director of Athletics and Extracurricular Programs. “Luckily we have great coaches who are here for the same experience we are: for the students and providing the best experience for them [that] we can.”

In addition to a rigorous academic program, Cristo Rey Boston students experience valuable work-study opportunities, which help pay for their education. All students work five full days per month, exposing them to corporate settings and work post-graduation. This job component is universal throughout the Cristo Rey Network, which has roots in Chicago’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and has grown to 24 schools in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Last year, the Boston school had a 100 percent college acceptance rate.

“Our goal here is to form young people [into] the young men and women of faith, purpose and service, and so, certainly playing sports complements all that and is a component of a well-rounded education,” says President Jeff Thielman.

In keeping with the Cristo Rey values, one of the team’s goals is connecting with the community. NCCHS had a positive and considerable fanbase in Cambridge. The Knights plan to positively affect not only Savin Hill but all surrounding neighborhoods.

“I really want to hit the pavement and meet the people. The bottom line is we don’t have a booster club,” Ebersole says. “We need to build a relationship with the community and give back.” Two other components of the team model Ebersole stresses to his players are to always play with class and to always leave a positive impression. “Wins and losses will take care of themselves,” he says. “We need to define who we are as a team.”

“We feel lucky to be in Dorchester; we’re excited to be here in Savin Hill,” says Thielman.
Junior Esteban Barbosa from Dorchester plans on making this season and this team one the whole community can get behind and cheer for. “We’ll make you guys proud this year.”

For more information, visit cristoreyboston.org.