(Photo courtesy of Showstoppers)
At 26, Clinton “Bronco” Lassiter has earned two master’s degrees, switched his profession from accounting to teaching, and helped lead his basketball program for girls, the Boston Showstoppers, to national championships. Lassiter founded the Showstoppers in 2007 with a goal of not only teaching a sport but also developing important life skills.
Showstoppers has allowed Lassiter to fuse his love for basketball with his true passion, helping children. In this Q&A, Lassiter gives us a glimpse into what makes the Dorchester-based program so special to him. (The interview has been edited and condensed)
Q. How did the Showstoppers start?
A. I saw the passion in my nieces’ eyes and the need for girls’ basketball in the city. There is not much here in Boston. They had a vast amount of talent, but they never had anyone to put it all together. So once we got that established, it’s been off and running ever since.
When I started the program in 2007, it was one team that started with my two nieces. They invited some of their friends to join and went undefeated. Now we have over 80 girls and eight teams.
We were recognized by Governor Deval Patrick as the first girls’ program from Boston to win a National Championship. Mayor Menino honored the girls for winning the city league four years in a row.
We have a couple of girls who are being watched to get basketball scholarships. They are on the brink of attaining that. That’s exciting.
Q. How did you come up with the name for the program?
A. Once again, it was my nieces. They were playing around the house, and I don’t know if the song was on, but they came up with Showstoppers. And I wanted to make sure that everywhere we went, everyone would know that we were from Boston and Massachusetts.
Q. Who are the girls who make up Boston Showstoppers?
A. They are from the third grade all the way up to juniors in high school. The program now includes girls from various parts of Massachusetts: Brewster, Leominster, Mansfield, Stoughton, all over.
Q. Outside of the basketball, what other activities make up the program?
A. We have done college tours and conferences to build leadership. We focus on nutrition and preventing obesity. We have also done some activities in the community like peace walks. We would like to do more community service, so the girls can understand that the whole endpoint is giving back.
Q. In 2007, you were 22. How did you know how to build and organize something like this?
A. This was my first time coaching girls. I always loved the sport of basketball. I played in high school at John D. O’Bryant High School of Math and Science and in college at Suffolk University. After I graduated from high school, I went back and helped my coach with the boys’ team.
I learned along the way. I went on the Internet. There were a lot of leagues for boys, so I took the model and expanded from there. I researched other states, and the Amateur Athletic League. It is big for girls in other states, but not here in Massachusetts.
Q. How did you receive the funding to support the program?
A. I think, truthfully, by the luck of God. We have been working on a shoestring budget. We do fund-raising, raffles, and ask for donations, if we can. We’ve lucked out, and have been able to survive year by year.
I have been lucky to have people volunteer their time to coach the girls and train the girls. I am positive and hopeful that once we do receive a sponsor, there are so many other great things we can do.
Q. Who are some of the people involved?
A. Jesus Rodriguez has been with me for about three years, and does basketball relations and recruiting. Courtney Leonard handles all the public relations and day-to-day business. She also spends time with the parents. She is actually a radio host on a local Boston radio station, Touch 106.1 FM. Kenneth Grubbs is a local police officer who started coaching when I started the program.
Q. Have you seen that girls who are playing basketball are doing better in school?
A. Well, I have a success story about one girl who started when the program began in 2007. Last year, she started having difficulties and struggling in school. She wasn’t completing homework assignments and her grades dropped drastically. It was the toughest thing, but I had to do what was best for her, and what was best for the image of the program.
I suspended her from playing. She couldn’t come back on the team until she improved her grades. She was devastated, she cried, she was mad at me. But overall she knew what had to be done.
She went from having D's and F's to being on the honor roll. At the end of the day, she thanked me because that opened her eyes. She missed the girls, she missed her family and she missed playing the game of basketball.
Q. I came across an article in the Globe about you when you were 8. Are you comfortable telling me about that experience?
A. The neighborhood that I grew up in [Dorchester] was really rough, and I was just outside when violence struck. I was an innocent bystander, in the wrong place. I got shot by a stray bullet when I was 8.
It motivated me to stay positive and to do the right thing for my mom, because I saw the effect that incident had on her. I knew that for me to go down the wrong path or to get into any violence on the streets would have an effect on her and her emotions. It made me always strive to do the right thing.
Q. How does it play a part in what you do with the Boston Showstoppers?
A. At any point, just being out on the streets, a bullet has no name on it or violence has no name to it. Just to keep the girls active and off of the streets is what motivates me.
Q. Is your mom proud of you?
A. My mom is always excited to talk about how I help in the community. And whenever she can, she tries to watch the girls. My mom has no clue about basketball, but comes down and shows her support and to see her grandchildren.