Travel basketball league is growing student’s dreams
Dressed out in their orange uniforms, 27 athletes from Coral Shores to Key West High School meet on neutral turf at Marathon High School gymnasium. They all have one common goal in mind – winning basketball games.
Since organizing the Florida Tropics last year with only 12 Marathon High students on it, Coach John Howe’s reach with the program has expanded significantly; forty-three kids showed up recentlyto try out for the spring season..
Howe played basketball since his childhood, through college, and some afterwards. He’s been a coach since 1999 and, after coaching beside Kevin Freeman the past two years, he saw a need for a club team that could play year round. The Florida Tropics were born. He brought on a knowledgeable arsenal of coaches to help him along the way: Charlie Brown, Sean Kirwin, and Nick and Neil Cataldo.
“I would be lost without their wealth of information,” Howe said of his coaches. “They have been instrumental in helping put everything together effortlessly, securing hotels and transportation, and getting this program started.”
Since it isn’t a school-funded sport, each player is required to pay a $315 fee to play. Most players work weekend jobs or ask for business sponsorships to cover the initial cost. And that’s just the beginning. The team often plays weekend-long tournaments that require hotel stays. The team — when they aren’t practicing on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday — is fundraising for the next trip.
“We volunteered at the 7 Mile Bridge Run, and have a great relationship with Parks and Rec running a concession stand,” he said. They also have a boat wash lined up for mini season and are in the process of hosting a tournament in the Keys to raise more funds in August.
“The coolest part of this is seeing high school students from all three Keys schools come together and work hard together,” Howe said.
Camron Chaplin, an All-County Basketball player and sophomore at Marathon High School, is in his second year on the team and has become good friends with his once rival, Key West High School’s Ziyah Jefferson.
“We relate really well,” Chaplin said. “We have combined forces and have become good friends in the process.”
Jefferson, who is also a sophomore and was MVP on last year’s school team, heard about the Tropics on Instagram and reached out to Chaplin who told him to come and try out. “We didn’t even know each other,” Jefferson said, “but are now great friends.”
Jefferson added that it is a great new experience being on the team. “Playing on the high school team, we drive up, play a game, and drive home. With this team, we are in tournaments all weekend long, sometimes playing three or more games over that time.”
There are usually about 12 teams competing in the tournaments, and the Florida Tropics came in second place in their first tournament in Plantation and third in the second one in Fort Lauderdale. They are competing this weekend in Fort Meyers.
“The best part about this team is the coaches,” Jefferson and Chaplin agreed. “They are taking it to a whole new level with the drills and what they are teaching us.”
Both students aspire to play college basketball. They have big hopes (F.S.U.!), but said they would just be happy with whomever will take them, as long as they get to play past high school.
The summer season will reorganize when school ends, and the coaches are 90-percent sure they will be bringing on a girls team next year under the guidance of basketballer Daashia Cochran.
To keep up with the team and their fundraising efforts, follow them on Facebook at fb.com/fltropicsbball.