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Urban coaches focus on academics, as well as athletic development

Former New Mission coach Cory McCarthy helped form the Urban Coaches Association.
Former New Mission coach Cory McCarthy helped form the Urban Coaches Association.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, basketball coaches had plenty of time on their hands.

Cory McCarthy, a five-time state champion as the former coach of the New Mission girls’ and boys’ basketball programs, spent that time distributing food and vital educational supplies to students of the Hyde Park school.

But New Mission’s director of operations wasn’t content to work with his own school community. So he partnered with Lynn English boys’ basketball coach Antonio Anderson and Boston Amateur Basketball Club coach Jamall Griffin to form the Urban Coaches Association, a collaborative group with coaches from dozens of Massachusetts schools.

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The UCA aims to provide resources and support to coaches in urban communities to help athletes improve their quality of life and obtain the necessary resources to achieve goals, such as attending a college of their choice.

“Cory, his energy is just infectious,” said Griffin, an associate head coach with the BABC.

“He’s like a mayor, and as the spokesperson [of the UCA], he’s been remarkable. We just wanted to discuss a way that we could exit the pandemic better than we entered, and the first step was to use basketball to bring together leaders from different communities.”

When Griffin brought in former UConn player and Winchendon teacher Jonathan Mandeldove, the UCA began to gain clout outside of New England. The association’s first four virtual meetings have included guest coaches from colleges in 10 states, including former Detroit Pistons player and Mississippi Valley State coach Lindsey Hunter.

“I’ve been very surprised at how fast we garnered attention outside of the region,” said Mandeldove, who has coached seven years at public and prep schools in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.

“Coaches are reaching out to me now saying, ‘We want to speak to your congregation of coaches.’ It’s been spreading like wildfire and with the climate that we’re in today, everyone can sit down and give up two hours to connect and work to improve relations, be they race relations, or academic relations with the higher powers.”

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Weekly Zoom meetings, which are open to coaches of all levels, are just the starting point. McCarthy said the UCA is already in action mode, with the first phase of its plan rolling out this month.

Phase 1 includes webinar coaching clinics, education on nutrition and wellness for student-athletes in middle and high school, and a delivery program that will distribute 10 pounds of food to 10 families in different towns one day each week.

“If you’re a coach in the city, you were already in a pandemic,” said McCarthy, a 43-year-old Mattapan resident. “Because you were already worried about food and housing for your kids. So we have to come out of the pandemic with more of an intentional focus on how to support these kids. Because poverty is trauma.”

With everything he’s accomplished in the basketball world, McCarthy has done even more for the New Mission community as a mentor and educator. Before McCarthy led the girls’ team to a Division 4 state championship in 2007, the alternative education school was in danger of closing and academically ranked 307th in the state, according to U.S. News.

Success on the court sparked academic reform, and with McCarthy expanding his role as director of School Culture and Climate, New Mission was named a National Blue Ribbon School for Improvement by 2013 and a Title One Distinguished School by 2017. It now ranks 56th in the state, per U.S. News, and has the highest graduation rate among Boston Public Schools with many alumni moving on to prestigious colleges.

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Although an estimated 20 percent of BPS students have not logged on to virtual classes during the pandemic, New Mission is seeing 91 percent participation in part because McCarthy, current boys’ basketball coach Malcolm Smith, school principal Andrew Bott, middle school Dean Steven Grace, and guidance counselor Valduvino Goncalves have been checking in with every student daily and ensuring they have the resources to continue their education.

“New Mission sets the bar high for all students and pushes you to achieve your goals,” said freshman Chris Clarke, a promising 6-foot-3-inch wing who spent time on varsity last year.

“I told Cory I want to go far with basketball, and he said it started with the classroom. Cory is a great representation of how a coach can impact kids off the court. A lot of kids have the same aspirations,” Clarke said about his goal to play basketball at Kentucky or Syracuse. “But they don’t have someone in their ear guiding them.”

McCarthy wants other programs to share the same mentorship with players, saying guidance has to come as early as seventh grade for urban student-athletes to get on track for their college of choice.

That’s why Phase 2 of the UCA plan culminates with a plan to create freshman teams for all BPS programs.

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The first two UCA meetings featured Boston University men’s basketball coach Joe Jones and women’s basketball coach Marisa Moseley explaining what it takes to craft college-ready prospects, and BPS athletic director Avery Esdaile joined to talk about a partnership with the newly formed association.

“For BPS, it’s a timely discussion, because these are conversations we’re already having as a district around the redesign of our schools project,” said Esdaile.

“These are some of the things I’ve been discussing with other athletic directors in urban districts. How can we be a resource to each other, identify common issues, and look to work together? At the end of the day it’s all about improving the end product for the kids and anything we can partner with that does that, we’re going to be on board.”

Head coaches attending weekly UCA meetings include Kalon Jenkins (Randolph), Stanley Chamblain (Everett), Jesus Moore (Lawrence), Greg Berry (Durfee), Jim Dolan (Weymouth), and Marcus Watson (St. Peter Marian), among others.

The list of guests and speakers is increasing each week, with UMass Boston coach Jason Harris slated to speak, and McCarthy is thrilled with the level of engagement in the forum.

“We have zero plans to let up and our network is growing by the day,” said McCarthy. “We’re not only bringing awareness, we’re bringing action. We’re trying to turn a movement into a revolution. Movements are only temporary. A change in perception compounded with action, that’s a revolution.”

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