By Brooks Warren
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
LAUREL, Md. – As soon as you walk through the giant blue double doors, up a flight of stairs, and through another double-set of doors, you see a basketball court and a boxing ring. In your peripheral view to the left, you’ll see college banners hanging and on the right, images of former athletes, alumni of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club who have gone on to greater conquests.
This is the environment that President Adrian Rousseau and Vice President Wilbert Nicholson have created for the young men and women who spend days in the facility learning about life and themselves. They have worked years creating a culture that invite youth, make them feel welcome to come back and help coach or teach, to play in club sports and participate in after-school programs.
Rousseau, who coaches many of the clubs’ sports programs, said he thanks his uncle and coaches in his life for keeping him in a gym and around positive influences. Without that guidance in his life, he said he might have ended up like so many of his friends who got caught up in the wrong things.
“What we try to do is lead by example,” Rousseau said. “Make sure that the torch never changes.”
“If you look over the top of my office, I was here years ago as the basketball commissioner and the athletic director running the programs,” he said. “And then when things start changing, I took over and we put a new staff in and a new board.”
The club administration is quite proud of the program’s growth. Many former members return to say they remember their time with the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. Even the so-called “flameouts,” those who fell for the attractions of street life and hustled instead of playing sports, come back to give Rousseau a smile and hug as memories flood of when they were athletes.
Cousins Terrell Willis and AJ Rousseau, both 24, make frequent visits to mentor the children who roam the halls, play basketball late at night, or help maintain the building.
“The work ethic we have to be successful,” Willis said, “came from here.”
Willis is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He works at Frederick Community College as an assistant coach. Willis said the bonds he made within the Laurel community were because his parents, who were still teenagers when they had him, knew that he would be safe and out of trouble if he stayed at the Boys and Girls Club all day and night.
The younger Rousseau is a student at Frostburg State University, as well as a father of an infant daughter.
In addition to coaching, Willis formed a professional-amateur league, The One League, that is held at the Boys and Girls Club. The idea came after watching Goodman League games, a legendary streetball league in Washington, D.C. that’s been in operation for 23 years. A phone call to AJ Rousseau precipitated the birth of the league in the summer of 2017.
“I called him, and I was like ‘yo, let’s do this bro,’ Willis said as he reminisced. “What do we have to do to make it happen? Why can’t we? I went out to Goodman and I saw everybody, the whole community out there. They would get off work and come straight up to Goodman, like that was the after-work thing. You’ve been down there, it’s a crazy atmosphere.”
In just two years, the One League has become a hot spot every weekend in Laurel. The One League has jumped from 10 teams to 23 teams this year. College players and professionals clamor to play in the league, valuing the unique uniforms. The players in the league remind Rousseau of a bunch of big kids.
The One League has even had Aquille Carr, the Crime Stopper, folk legend in Baltimore, come down and play games. Carr knows AJ is going to Princeton Day and his presence and subsequent mixtape playing in the game blew up the popularity of the league. Willis said he envisions the league becoming the top pro-am in the DMV, surpassing the popularity of the Goodman League.
“Don’t know what goes on with people outside the league but coming in helps people forget and be around positivity,” said Rousseau. “Maybe change their life around, not take life so serious.”
There was one moment that made all the late nights cleaning up the gym, washing uniforms, dealing with business specifics all worth it. Willis told a story of one player who, while leaving the gym following a game, profusely thanked Willis for creating the league and all that he does to maintain it.
“He’s like ‘nah, thank you, you helped me,’ this league has helped me, please don’t stop, I wanna come back every single summer,” Willis said.
Rousseau and Nicholson said moments like that are what built the Laurel Boys and Girls Club.
“ This building, all of the champions, and I say champions meaning on the court, off the court, on the field, off the field, whatever,” Willis said with an intense look. “Started from here.”