MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- The Harlem Ambassadors professional basketball team visited the air station Friday night for a game against the Yuma All-Stars at the station fitness center as part of the Drug Demand Reduction Program.
The Ambassadors travel around the world doing shows and promoting drug-free lifestyles, and are not the type of basketball team people would normally think of when they hear "professional basketball team," said Beth Ayash, DDRP director and event coordinator. When they play, they put on a comedic and entertaining show, which includes juggling of basketballs, groovy dances, daring dribbles and high flying dunks.
"I saw some information about them, how they talk about a drug-free lifestyle and how none of them are recovering drug users, but have chosen to live the drug-free life. They are drug tested and live by higher standards than the average person. They live a life a lot like Marines do," said Ayash. "To me this was a great way to put the two together. We had good role models promoting good ways to have fun and stay healthy while being drug-free."
Before the game, there were several booths outside of the fitness center with information on drug and alcohol abuse.
"We had information for everyone and some educational activities," said Ayash. "We had goggles that impair your vision as if you are drunk or high. We had people put on the goggles and attempt riding a bicycle and shooting baskets to show the effects of drugs on everyday activities."
When the game began, the stands were jam packed and the station players were ready to play against the pros.
"I've played at a higher level in the past with the All-Marine team and some semi-pro teams," said Eric Costner, station team center. "These guys are either at that level or better. They do this to feed their families though, so it's a little different for them. I feel honored and blessed to play with these guys. There's not too many people who get a chance to play with them."
Between quarters, the Ambassadors would involve the audience with various games and activities, including musical chairs, a group dance and a raffle for an autographed ball.
"We do this for the kids and to bless peoples' lives. The basketball is fun, but to see peoples' eyes light up is something amazing," said Kevin Sims, Ambassadors guard.
The Ambassadors players had some pretty innovative moves on the court, but one Yuma all-star showed everyone that he had some moves of his own. Galen Marshal, a former station team player who was re-visiting Yuma for the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, tricked some of the Ambassadors with his dribbling skills.
"It was quite an experience. I mean, to get out there and show all these people what I can do on the court was very exciting," said Marshal.
The game also gave the station team coach a chance to look at some new players.
"We've got five new guys on the team, so this was a good opportunity for me to see what they've got against some high quality players. I think they played well and will be even better once they get the plays down," said Doug Alridge, station team coach.
He also said he's glad the station put on this event and that he thinks there needs to be more.
"We should have more events like this. It doesn't have to be a basketball game, but anything. Drugs and alcohol are big problems with our youth today," explained Alridge. "I was glad to see so many people come out to the game. That shows that our community feels the same way about preventing drug use in our area."
The Yuma All-Stars lost the game 71-36, but didn't hang their heads.
"It'd be great to win, but that's not the point of the game," said Atonda Livingston, Yuma guard, who played against the Ambassadors previously in Japan. "These games are to promote drug awareness and give the kids a chance to have a good time and see some good role models doing something fun and staying drug-free."
The Ambassadors, who play more than 150 games a year, are almost done with their season but will continue to spread their message around the world, said Sims.
"We want everyone to know that everybody is somebody. A lot of pro athletes come through and you can't even talk to them. That's not how we are," he explained. "Our message is that we're just like you. We've made our mistakes and done what we've had to do, but God brought us back to a straight and narrow path. So, don't give up on whatever you're doing, continue striving and you'll accomplish all your goals and dreams."
The message seemed to get across pretty well at the event.
"Events like these show us where we can go and what we can do," said 16-year-old Fontez Alridge, Yuma High School junior and son of Doug Alridge. "These Marines and basketball players have done so much with their lives and they've done it without drugs."