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Hoop coaches, life mentors: AFTAC Airmen engage with community youth

Airmen from the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., pose for a photo in the base fitness center.  The Airmen volunteered their off-duty time to serve as youth basketball coaches for a local recreational league.  Pictured from left to right:  Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Elliott, Staff Sgt. Floridamae Mones, Airman 1st Class Willie Robinson and Airman 1st Class Canaan Kennedy.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Phillip C. Sunkel IV)

Airmen from the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., pose for a photo in the base fitness center. The Airmen volunteered their off-duty time to serve as youth basketball coaches for a local recreational league. Pictured from left to right: Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Elliott, Staff Sgt. Floridamae Mones, Airman 1st Class Willie Robinson and Airman 1st Class Canaan Kennedy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Phillip C. Sunkel IV)

Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson (center) and Airman 1st Class Canaan Kennedy (left) discuss playmaking strategies with their basketball team during a game in Viera, Fla.  The Airmen, assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., volunteered their off-duty time to serve as coaches and mentors to youth from the local area.  (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson (center) and Airman 1st Class Canaan Kennedy (left) discuss playmaking strategies with their basketball team during a game in Viera, Fla. The Airmen, assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., volunteered their off-duty time to serve as coaches and mentors to youth from the local area. (Courtesy photo)

Team photo from Viera Regional Community Center's recreational basketball league.  Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson (far right) and Staff Sgt. Floridamae Mones (far left), both assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., volunteered their time to serve as coaches.  Pictured are (front row, left to right): Justin Lee, Jesse McDuffie, Brielle Basham; middle row: Cole Guest, Graeme Burns, John Banks, Jakai Shack; back row:  Cyrus Matini, Kyle Bortz, Aeddon Burns.  (Courtesy photo)

Team photo from Viera Regional Community Center's recreational basketball league. Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson (far right) and Staff Sgt. Floridamae Mones (far left), both assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., volunteered their time to serve as coaches. Pictured are (front row, left to right): Justin Lee, Jesse McDuffie, Brielle Basham; middle row: Cole Guest, Graeme Burns, John Banks, Jakai Shack; back row: Cyrus Matini, Kyle Bortz, Aeddon Burns. (Courtesy photo)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When a local recreational basketball league was looking for volunteers to coach youth athletes, two brothers assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center stepped up to the challenge.

Staff Sgts. Jarrod and Jordan Peterson, despite having no children of their own, submitted their names for consideration to the Viera Regional Community Center, a multipurpose athletic facility near the base that’s home to fall and spring basketball leagues. After a face-to-face interview and required background check, the pair were initially assigned to coach 11-12 year-old age groups of eager boys and girls.

Realizing the rec center needed more volunteers, the brothers reached out to some of their co-workers and encouraged them to get involved. They convinced several Airmen to join them as assistant coaches.

“We sought out people with the innate ability to make a difference and to give them a platform to exercise their leadership and public speaking skills,” said Jordan. “The Air Force looks for those characteristics in its Airmen, and this was a perfect opportunity for some of the junior Airmen here at AFTAC to hone those skills in a completely different environment.”

Meeting twice a week for two hours of practice in preparation for their weekly game, Jordan reached back to his own high school days and employed a coaching style that addressed the various skill levels of his players.

“I used skill-based training, and I sought out players for various positions that I haven’t mastered myself,” he explained. “Occasionally, I’ll ask them to come to practice and teach their teammates their respective roles on the court. They get a better understanding of what a good player is by learning from their peers, and it doesn’t matter if they’re a boy or a girl – each comes with their own set of abilities and weaknesses, and we work together as a unit, much like the military does, to accomplish our goals.”

His brother continued, “Together, we used our split development to our advantage,” said Jarrod. “Back in the day, Jordan was always more of an aggressive post player, while I was quicker on my feet and focused more on shooting and creating openings. It’s worked well for us.”

Airman 1st Class Canaan Kennedy, one of the co-workers the Petersons recruited to assist with coaching, explained why he chose to get involved.

“I think it’s really important to volunteer because when I was growing up, I had a lot of coaches I considered as role models and mentors,” he said. “Many of them truly made a difference in my life, so I think if I can make a difference to one of my players, it makes it all worthwhile.”

In an age where electronic devices are far more prevalent than basketballs in the hands of today’s youth, children have fewer opportunities for face-to-face interaction with their peers and mentors. Programs like this are helping bridge that gap.

For the past 16 years, Stephane Mohr has worked for Brevard County Parks and Recreation, and is currently Viera Regional Community Center’s recreational leader. She understands the importance of having military members serve as volunteer coaches.

“When people from Patrick AFB come out to help us, their presence shows the kids how to be passionate about something you love,” she said. “The Airmen teach them how to be strong and stay in the fight until the fight is over, win or lose. They also teach them responsibility, respect, discipline, and especially how to just have fun.”

She added, “I have so many parents who request to have their kids play on Jordan and Jarrod’s teams. Even after the season is over, they would check on the players and invite them to play a pick-up game here at the center. I couldn’t ask for better coaches and role models.”

The fraternal twins, who work as web developers for AFTAC’s 709th Cyberspace Squadron, share a passion for basketball, and now after coaching local youth, also share a special place in their hearts for the players who have made such an impact on them.

“The rec league is an excellent way for these kids to strengthen their friendships, learn new skills, get some exercise and most important, have some fun,” said Jarrod. “Throughout all four of the teams I’ve coached in Viera, I’ve had one player on all four teams: Brielle Basham. She’s the smallest girl in the league, and I’ve seen her grow and evolve, not just physically, but mentally as well. She would constantly approach us looking for ways to improve, and she was always so excited about getting better – so much so that her parents also started to ask us how to make sure she was doing things right. Between her specific talent and her spike in confidence, I’d trust her with the game-winning shot any day.”

Several player-parents showered the Airmen with praise for their involvement.

“I don’t think Coach (Jordan) Peterson will ever know the impact he’s had on my son,” said Tyna Fish, mom of Lashaun, better known to his teammates as Prince. “He was going through a very dark time in his life, and being a single parent isn’t easy. Lashaun desperately craved a male mentor in his life, so when (Jordan) chose him to be captain of the team, it actually changed his life. I can’t thank him enough for recognizing his ability and giving him the chance to shine. I want him to know how much I appreciate all he’s done!”

Accolades continued from another parent.

“Justin just loved Coach Peterson and Coach (Staff Sgt. Floridamae) Mones,” said Tracy Lee. “He told me the coaches never treated him ‘like a kid’ and I’ve never seen him love going to practices and games as much as he did with these coaches. And giving him a special military coin for Most Improved Player meant a lot to all of us!”

Over the past three years he’s been coaching at VRCC, Jordan has seen huge growth in his players.

“The influence you may have on a young adult is incredibly fulfilling,” he said. “We had two kids on our squad last year who didn’t want to try out for their high school team when the season started. By the time we finished the season and freshman tryouts were underway, we received emails and texts from the parents telling us that their child had made the high school roster. It makes you realize you truly can have an impact. It’s very gratifying.”

The other AFTAC volunteer coaches include Tech. Sgt. Desiree Penn, Airman 1st Class Ruben Vera Colon, Staff Sgt. Dustin Elliott, Airman 1st Class Willie Robinson, Rodney Gaines, and Airman 1st Class Myles McCurdy.

“These Airmen are volunteering their time to help our program be a success, and the kids love them all so much,” Mohr said. “During our medal and trophy ceremony last season, Jordan brought (military challenge) coins for each of the kids for being most improved, hardest worker, always being on time, never giving up, and so on. They didn’t have to do that, but I’ll tell you it meant so much to the kids and their parents. I can’t thank them all enough for their time and support, and especially for their service to our country. The world is a much better place because of them!”

The Peterson brothers encourage others to get involved in community programs.

“There are countless opportunities for Airmen to play a role in area athletics and youth programs,” said Jarrod. “You just have to commit the time and effort to it. It does take a lot of dedication, but the rewards far outweigh anything.”

Jordan added, “We’ve had some of our athletes who ‘aged out’ of the program return to volunteer and assist in coaching alongside us in a support role. And a few of them have expressed an interest in joining the Air Force. It doesn’t get much better than that!”