LAUREL – 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 to the left, you’ll see banners hanging of colleges, on the right images of athletes from years past. The banners represent alumni of the club that have gone on to greater heights, who take the lessons learned from days spent in the club in their daily lives as adults.
The club is where Adrian Rousseau, President, and coach of many of the clubs sports programs, and Wilbert Nicholson, the vice president of the club, have created a culture where men and women, both young and new feel welcome to come back and help coach or teach, to play in club sports and participate in after school programs. Rousseau says 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 might’ve ended up like so many of his friends who went the other way and got caught up in the wrong things.
“What we try to do is lead by example. Make sure that the torch Never changes,” Rousseau said “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. And then when things start changing, I took over and we put a new staff in and a new board.”
Paying that guidance forward is a point of pride for the club administration. To see so many come back and say they remember they’re time as kids at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club fondly. The flameouts, those who fell for the attractions of the street life, who sought out hustling instead of playing sports, come back and the memories of when they were an athlete come rushing back and they greet Rousseau with a smile and a hug.
A specific pair of young men have always come back to the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. Whether that’s to mentor the children who roam around the halls, play basketball late at night, or help maintain the building. These two men, Terrell Willis and AJ Rousseau, both 24, share a bond much more special than just being cousins.
“The work ethic we have to be successful,” Willis said. “Came from here”
The younger Rousseau is a student at Frostburg State, as well as a new father of an infant daughter. Willis is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He even coaches at Frederick Community College as an assistant coach. For Willis, the bonds he made within the Laurel community were because his parents, who were still teenagers when they had Willis, knew that he would be safe at the boys and girls club. They trusted the Rousseau’s enough to let him stay there all day and night because their son would be out of trouble.
Willis continues to pay that leadership forward, forming 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 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. 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,” Willis said as he reminisced.
Two years later and the One League has become a hot-spot every weekend in Laurel. The One League has jumped from 10 teams to 23 teams in 2019. 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.
“Don’t know what goes on with people outside the league, but coming in helps people forget and be around positivity. Maybe change their life around, not take life so serious.” Rousseau said.
The One League has even had Aquille Carr, the Crime Stopper, a folk legend in Baltimore, come down and play games. Carr knows AJ, going to Princeton Day and his presence and subsequent mixtape playing in the game blew up the popularity of the league. Willis envisions the league becoming the top pro-am in the DMV, surpassing the popularity of the Goodman League.
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 dont stop, I wanna come back every single summer. “ Willis said.
Moments like that are what built the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. It stands for affecting kids growing up in cities like Laurel who seek accountability and guidance from the right role models according to Willis.
“ 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.”