Give Rise To A Leader Scholarship

Story on AJ Downs an the launching of Give Rise To A Leader Scholarship

Little Miss Downs was discovered years ago while going to support a friend’s daughter; who was in the 8th grade at the time, playing in a girls winter community league. As I watched the Merrillville Girls’ Winter League Championship Game, I realized the other team’s starter was a 6th grader who was starting on the 8th grade team. The girls in this age group were only a few months from graduating middle school; and on their way to the local high school. I actually knew some of the young ladies in this very competitive league.

The 6th grader took what the 8th graders gave her; but she gave it right back with a flair of which someone her age should not have had. After the 6th grader’s team lost a closely contested championship game, I introduced myself to her and her mother, Ms. LaVetta Lampley. I know she thought I was a little crazy; but I knew of course she had no clue who I was. I ran the most successful traveling girls’ program in the area / region; and wanted to see if she would want to tryout for my Lady Pirates AAU team. It was filled with girls from the region’s high schools; some stars in their own right (all conference players, MVP’s, and future state of Indiana All Stars).

The problem was, would the upper high school girls accept her as a very quick and talented 6th Grader? Then, would AJ Downs accept them as teammates?

The first tryout / practice was interesting, but funny; because she (AJ Downs) got a little nervous playing pick up basketball with girls she saw in the local newspaper three times a week. She turn down shots to feed the juniors and seniors, until I corrected her. Then she unleashed what I saw a weekend prior in that Winter League Championship Game at the local high school gym; and the rest was history.

When the “Little Point Guard” finished playing with her traveling girls AAU Team, she was 2009 National Championship Tournament Runner Up in the Open Division Girls 19U (Orlando Florida ESPN Complex, @ Disney World). She owns all the records on her AAU Traveling Team like games played & games actually won (116 an organization / club record for girls & boys). She is a 6-time Defensive MVP, career leader in steals and assist, etc.

At Merrillville High School, she was listed passed on the school’s career assist list (by a friend of hers); now she is 4th all time; and was the team’s MVP during her senior season. To top that off, an all first team “All DAC Conference” Selection.

A four year starter in high school at the varsity level, only four other players can actually say that in the history of her high school (all stand taller than 5′ 8″ ); AJ Downs stood barely 5′ 4″ in high school.

AJ Downs obtained a basketball scholarship at the female program at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; who help lead the Lady Eagles to the NJCAA National Tournament in Kansas. The Kirkwood Lady Eagles fell short, of reaching the Final Four by a few points; finishing 5th in the country in NJCAA Division II. Then she came back home to the region, and played her junior year at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana; she wanted to play close to home at the NAIA University (she didn’t want her single mother driving hours up the road to watch her play in a two hour college basketball game anymore).

Recent health concerns has stolen her senior year on the court; so now she’s a regular working student; who volunteers her time with her old AAU Coach’s mentorship program in the Northwest Indiana Region.

On Thursday, January 11, 2018, history was made in the small town of Griffith, Indiana. The powers that be enabled a connection to be formed with Ambassador of Goodwill, Dr. “Coach” Tony Branch who was featured on ABC Hit TV Show “Secret Millionaire, The Mendoza family – owners of Shades of Time Cocktails on 45th, and National Statesmen Dr. Vernet A. Joseph. As a collective team, this group put together a fundraiser to create the first “Give Rise To A Leader” scholarship for AJ Downs; which happens to be “Coach” Tony Branch’s protégé; who appeared on the show “Secret Millionaire” with him as a 7th grader. AJ Downs is the last young lady to finish college that Coach Tony mentored and coached through the organization he started called, Merrillville Basketball Sports Camp.

AJ Downs, now a Senior at Indiana University, underwent a few medical challenges that caused her some financial burdens. So to offset bills not covered by FASFA and most normal scholarships, we decided to step in and help this young lady continue to complete her education. No young person should have to make a choice between eating or dropping out of school.  With that said, the Give Rise To A Leader Scholarship has been birthed; and every April starting in 2018, we will be raising funds to help 4 – 6 students continue their education by going to college at the university level.

We have a passion to see our future generation of young people successful and leading productive lives; because they had the opportunity to do so.

Never underestimate the power of becoming. The you that you see in the mirror today is being transformed. Take time to write your goals, dreams and aspirations down. One day you are going to be in position to produce and serve for the generation behind you; and you will be able to look back on this day and say, “I remember when a few good, kindhearted people wanted to see me succeed and create  the “Give Rise To A Leader ” scholarship to assist me;” so now I pass it on to you.

There are no limitations except for the ones you put on yourself. I challenge everyone that reads this article to be genuine and authentically YOU. Anything is possible…if you DREAM, BELIEVE & Seek to ACHIEVE IT!

I leave you with my motto in which I live by:

If I can see it; then I can achieve it.
If I can believe for it; then I can run towards it.
If it’s possible; then I must achieve it!
Be Innovate, be Productive and always Live To PRODUCE!!!

Dr. Vernet A. Joseph

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