For the Love of the Game

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gulianna Dunn U.S. Armed Forces Sports

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Another balmy week in Florida means that a lot of people are finding ways to cool down, but there is a group of service members heating up the area surrounding Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. Standing just outside of the base gymnasium, the atmosphere has grown tense as the desire to win pulsates through every, single player of the Armed Forces Basketball men’s and women’s teams. 

A small crowd has gathered around the basketball court, but the air is electric. The sound of sneakers racing up and down the court in a fast-paced sprint to score the most points has everyone on their feet. Someone scores and the court explodes with the sounds of cheering.

“I love basketball because it’s such a stress reliever,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Charmaine Clark, from Hinesville, Georgia. “I put all my blood, sweat and tears into the entire game – the offense, the defense, the timeouts, the press – literally! I’m going to play this game as long as my body allows me to.”

Clark is a member of the All-Air Force women’s basketball team. Like all Armed Forces Sports, service members participate and compete at unit level intramurals and advance to the All-Service level where they can compete in national and international competitions such as the 2019 Armed Forces Basketball championship.

“I was playing for my post [Fort Sill, Oklahoma] team and word of mouth reached the coaches,” said Army Spc. Jonathan Kindred, from Raleigh, North Carolina. “I love the game so I was happy to become a part of this [All-Army] team and continue playing.”

Most players have been playing basketball since youth not knowing that their passion for the game could lead to opportunities like this.

“Basketball has done so much for my life. It has opened so many doors and has given me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I went to college on a basketball scholarship.” said Navy Lt. Worth Smith, from Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’ve also met a lot of great guys, I’ve been able to travel and I hopefully get to help break the Navy’s losing streak this year.”

There is a common misconception that players selected for their branches team will be obligated to a full year on the team, but Smith, like many others understand that mission requirements take precedence over their participation.

“I’ve been trying to play on the All Navy team for the past four years,” said Smith. “I haven’t been able to because of work obligations. This year I was told no again, but a week before camp my work schedule changed and I was told I could play this year for the first time.”

For the teams and their coaches, it’s a delicate balancing act to find the right mix of service members to represent their branch.

“It’s a very real struggle to get the right players on our teams because a lot of commander’s don’t realize the players are only with us for a month,” explained Marine Corp Master Gunnery Sgt. Elonzo Higginson, from Mineral Wells, Texas. “Everything has to line up which can be aggravating at times, but we have to work with the players, the commands and their service obligations. We don’t always get the best of the best in terms of players, but we fight hard to make it work which in itself can be rewarding.”

While it may seem difficult for service members to find the right support, the players hope their experiences will inspire more people to join the program.

“I think others can learn resiliency, because it’s not easy,” said Clark. “It felt good when found out I made the team, because I played basketball all my life and once I joined the military, I didn’t know what avenue I could take to still be active in basketball. Once I found out about All- Air Force Basketball, it felt great to be back in my element.” 

Armed Forces Sports provides an avenue for military service members to participate in international competitions like the International Military Sports Council (CISM). After a week-long tournament that culminated into a championship game between the All-Navy and All-Army teams, the top players were selected to represent the United States at the CISM World Games in Wuhan, China later this year. 

“It’s been amazing. In such a short amount of time, I have 11 new brothers in my family,” said Navy Lt.j.g. Tilman Dunbar, from Woodbridge, Virginia. “It’s beautiful. On and off the court, we’ve built great relationships and I think that has translated to our performance on the court.”

As the 2019 Armed Forces Championship closes, the U.S. Men's and Women's Teams have been selected to represent the United States during the CISM Military World Games along with 18 other Armed Forces teams.  During the summer, players will return to their commands before assembling for a brief training camp during the end of September.  

Learn more by visiting www.armedforcessports.defense.gov.