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By Mark-Alexander Pieper

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 18) - Almost anyone who watched Bryan Patterson play basketball in the Astumbo Gym Adult Division Basketball League could tell he was one of the better players on the court.

Quick but strong, with good ball-handling and shooting skills, the guard for the Pohnpei Boyz usually is among his team's top scorers in league play.

Ask the 22-year-old where he learned to play and he will tell you: Pickup games in the streets. It's a place passers-by often spot other young athletes of the Federated States of Micronesia -- sometimes wearing NBA and NFL jerseys -- playing volleyball and basketball.

Patterson said he didn't play basketball for John F. Kennedy High School even though he felt he was good enough to earn a spot on the Islanders' roster.

"I never really wanted to play because, I guess, it's just the guys I hung out with, but I did notice that not a lot of (young people from the FSM) played (in the leagues)," he said.

"Sometimes I think that the younger kids never thought they would be good enough to make the teams because there were so many good players. But I always felt that if they wanted to they should try, even though I didn't want to."

Patterson is one of many student-athletes from the FSM, who for one reason or another don't try out for interscholastic sports. His sentiments on the matter are shared by many other young athletes on Guam who are from the FSM, said Kasma Aldis, organizer of the Pohnpeian Volleyball League.

"A lot of our kids, they know the ones well that used to go to high school before them, and they know the level of play that they used to do in high school. And when they found out that those guys were not selected, then maybe that's why not a lot of them want to try out," the 39-year-old said.

"They see those guys were good but maybe from their experience they feel that if they go out they are gonna waste their time to keep on trying, and they are not going to be selected," Aldis said. "There may be talent issues, but I think, even to this day, maybe race might play a small part because I think that might still be happening in some places."

There are, of course, notable exceptions to the rule which prove that athletes from the FSM can play interscholastic sports -- brothers Jack and John Howard, for example, who ran track for JFK. For every success story, though, there are many more stories about those who didn't try out. It's something Simon Sanchez High School sophomore Georgy Katau has noticed.

Though he plans to try out for the school's volleyball team, he said he has many friends who are too timid to do the same.

"I sometimes think they think they (will) not (be) accepted because most of my friends, they wanted to play the sports but they never went out. Mostly they were afraid the teammates would say things because they are from a different island," the 17-year-old said.

"It hasn't happened to me because I'm cool with the team, but I know guys it's happened to," Katau said. "But I would still tell kids to try out because you never know how that will be. And maybe it won't be that bad."

Jay Antonio, George Washington High School's track and cross country coach, said he doesn't believe there is discrimination against FSM athletes, but that a perception may exist because of the "stigma from the experiences of the much older athletes."

Tony Thompson, Father Duenas Memorial School vice principal and head coach of the Friars' basketball team, said a lack of confidence on the athlete's part also plays a role in the decision not to try out.

Thompson said FD is blessed with a diverse mix of students whose parents are supportive of participation in sports.

Although he said he can't speak for public schools, he does notice that there aren't many athletes from the FSM on their teams.

"I think that maybe they are apprehensive. I don't know why they don't come out -- you look at the Howard brothers and their success -- I don't know," he said.

"Maybe they think they are not good enough or people might not recognize them as an athlete. There are athletes out there with natural raw talent, and they just need to be placed in the right program. ... I don't know what we can do to entice them."

Chuuk native Christina Stinnett -- whose children Melba, Will and Corky excelled at interscholastic sports -- said she thinks school officials should talk to the parents of students from the FSM to encourage them to encourage their children to go out for sports.

"The kids need the encouragement and support, and I think that's one of the things the kids are experiencing. The parents, they might not give them the support they need," she said.

"(The kids) ride buses to school, and the parents usually both work when they come (to Guam) to support them. But then maybe (their children) can't get a ride (home) after the after-school practices," Christina Stinnett said.

Aldis -- whose son Kayle played football and volleyball for JFK -- said he, too, believes that trying to get the Micronesian community -- parents, aunts, uncles and other family members -- more involved in the sports scene will help to grow the desire for the younger generation of Micronesian athletes to want to participate in interscholastic sports.

Aldis, president of the Pohnpeian Family Organization, said that is one reason he's worked to organize the volleyball league and instituted a rule that requires all teams to have at least three FSM players on their 12-person rosters.

Christina Stinnett said she hopes that as more families become involved in their children's lives and activities, in time more and more children from the FSM will participate and flourish in interscholastic sports.

"The beauty of sports is they don't identify you by who you are but what you can contribute to the team. And that is very important because sports can be anybody's game," she said. "If you're the daughter of a senator or governor or anybody, if you have the talent, go for it."

October 18, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com


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