2015 FBA Season/15.03.13/[email protected]/Capsule
March 14, 2015
1st Voodoo Pup Challenge Is A Rousing Success
All over the United States, nearly eight million pre-teen kids play basketball in clubs organized by the FAAU (Furry Amateur Athletic Union), dreaming to one day be able to step onto the nation's most renowned courts and arenas. Last night, the Biloxi Voodoo gave this chance to twelve lucky children from all around Mississippi.
Dale Juel, Biloxi Voodoo media reporter
Earlier this year, it was announced that Crawdad Stadium would be the host for the first Voodoo Pup Challenge ever - a timed basketball obstacle course between twelve of the best basketball talents from all around the Magnolia State. Nearly eight hundred submissions came in, from which a four-member committee selected the lucky dozen – the parameters of choice being the kids' athletic skills as well as their species' variety, in order to form a roster that would encompass all the best qualities of young Mississippi ballers.
To make things memorable and interesting, it was decided that the competition would be staged on March 13, 2015, as part of the pre-game and halftime shows during the Voodoo's home game against the Newark Pride. All twelve kids would run the course, one after another, beneath the eyes of over 12,000 rowdy furs – an audience that would get even the most grizzled veterans’ legs shaking with nervousness.
Each contestant would receive a silver medal and a Voodoo jersey with number and surname of choice on its back, while the fastest kid to complete the challenge would be awarded an even more coveted prize – a gold medal, as well as the right to spend a day with the whole team and visit the Voodoo training facilities.
On February 27, 2015, the 12-kid roster was finalized and presented to the press;
- Roy Martin Anderson, a 10-year-old brown bear from Biloxi;
- Christian Andrew Bond, an 11-year-old American bulldog from Jackson;
- Amon-Ra Cordell Brewer, a 12-year-old muskrat from Rolling Fork;
- Destinee Lisa Carruthers, an 11-year-old salamander from Gulfport;
- Samuel James Charlton, a 12-year-old snowy egret from Biloxi;
- Thomas Barnaby Hood, a 12-year-old bottlenose dolphin from Vicksburg;
- DeAngelo David Millwood, an 11-year-old American alligator from Petal;
- Brianna Latitia Newell, a 10-year-old California Spangled cat from Biloxi;
- Montez Judson Pichardo, a 10-year-old ocelot from Wiggins;
- Ellis Julius Rinaudo, a 12-year-old river otter from Scooba;
- Nathan “Nate” Gunnar Skordahl, a 13-year-old husky from Biloxi;
- Susan MacKenzie Young, an 11-year-old whitetail deer from Biloxi.
The committee who took care of the project was adamant that the Voodoo Pup Challenge participants shouldn't be average kids selected in a raffle, but some of the very best young athletes to ever tread the FAAU hardwood. The course would not be something that could be found in the average county fair, but put their youthful energy and skills to their limits. Twelve would attempt the challenge, but only one would emerge the victor.
To put everyone in the same starting condition and avoid unexpected failures during the main event itself, all twelve participants (plus two alternates) were given a run through of the course on Friday morning. This also served as a general rehearsal of the obstacle course (which included a 25-yard dash across the lane; a crawl inside an U-shaped, narrow tunnel; a first free-throw shooting station with three basketballs; dribbling through five Voodoo-shaped mannequins; an 18-peg monkey bars swing; a second shooting station, identical to the first; a tire walk; a 10-yard run to the finish line). A 5-second penalty would be awarded for each missed shot, as well as a 30-second penalty for a failed completion of the monkey bars swing.
Most of the spectators were still trying to find their seats when Biloxi's MC, Chris Malone, welcomed the twelve competitors inside the arena, citing every participant's vitals, provenance and accolades as he beckoned them on stage. Each of the little athletes was accompanied by a team member, holding paws as if to pass the proverbial baton to the next generation of players.
A big round of applause welcomed team captain Neil Charlton and his firstborn Samuel on the court, fellow participants already sizing up the one they all considered their stiffest competition.
We started things off with Montez Pichardo, who had already become a crowd favorite after Malone had announced him as the youngest talent in the competition – the young ocelot having turned 10 just four months ago. His single mom Karen, clad in a long purple dress which turned a lot of heads, watched her son from the sidelines as he approached the first obstacle.
Montez was quick on the sprint and inside the tunnel, but missed a shot on his first try at the 10-foot hoop. He took off the monkey bars with gusto, covering the first pegs in merely seconds, but his arms tired out quickly and gave up in the final third. Two more misses at the second shootaround sealed Montez's fate, bringing the penalty total to 45 seconds for a final score of 110,13.
His mother was the first to console the spry kit, waiting for him at the finish line. “I gave birth to little Monty when I was seventeen,” Karen declared. “Raising him on my own hasn't been easy, but he never fails to make me proud. I hope he’ll be allowed to compete again once he’s a little bit older”.
Although they're all born in Mississippi, many of these kids' idols and sources of inspiration play on different teams. 12-year-old dolphin Thomas Hood wore a small pin supporting his favorite player, Wildcards' Barnaby Jazz.
“I'm a Barbie fan, through and through,” he said. “Most of my friends were weirded out by his dunk at last year's All-Stars, but I wasn't. He can teach everyone in the league a thing or two about courage and self-expression.”
Hood, who is known to behave more observantly than most his age (he spent most of the morning rehearsals thinking about how to shave time off of the obstacle transitions), performed well in the challenge, missing just 2 out of his 6 shots and putting himself in first position with a final time of 77,32. Gulfport native Destinee Carruthers was right behind him, scoring one shot less than the aquatic to complete the course in 84,32.
It was Samuel Charlton's turn – and the FBA legend's son didn't fail to deliver. Hatched a few months before Neil got drafted back in 2003, Sammy had been breathing the game almost since he started to walk – often seen around Crawdad Stadium along with his mother (Beatrice Williams, Charlton's long-time girlfriend whom he married shortly before Samuel's birth) and his younger brothers Olive and Neil Jr., he's getting everything he needs to be able to have a successful FBA career one day.
All eyes on him, the lanky avian (standing at 5'7”, he was the tallest participant) showed he already could handle a sizable amount of pressure. He may have missed a shot from his first rack, but his dribbling performance was nothing short of stellar, gaining him a thunderous cheer from the crowd. After a great display of strength and agility on the monkey bars, he completed the challenge with a clean three at the second rack, looking every bit of his father as he fired off his shots.
His final time of 66,51 was enough to put him in first place, more than ten seconds ahead the closest competitor. “He's got a little bit of me in him,” the proud father was quoted saying as he wiped a tear off his face.
Not all of these kids are looking forward to a brilliant FBA career, though. Little Amon-Ra Brewer, a 12-year-old muskrat from the small town of Rolling Fork, would gladly trade that to become a doctor, as his father Raymone told us before the challenge.
Growing up in a trailer park along with other six brothers and sisters, Amon-Ra's life has been tough from the get-go. His natural talent for basketball was discovered by his uncle, a veteran FAAU coach and longtime assistant for Pensacola P&M, who took care of the kid’s educational expenses. Amon-Ra’s goal to cure the sick and better the lives of those in need stems from a tragedy affecting one of his own: his younger sister Avianna was born with spina bifida (a congenital disorder affecting 1 in every 1000 births) and uses a wheelchair to get around.
Amon-Ra started off strongly, clocking the fastest time (3,42) on the 25-yard dash, but fell short in the second half of the challenge – struggling on the monkey bars and missing 3 of his 6 shots to score a final result of 87,95 seconds. His family was elated with their kid's performance, though.
“We couldn't afford to enroll our son here in college,” Mr Brewer declared, a pang of sadness in his voice. “Our hope is to get Amon in on an athletic scholarship, and he's on the right track to do so”.
Susan Young, an 11-year-old whitetail deer from Biloxi, was the last to compete before the real game went underway. The skinny doe was decent on the course but absolute clutch from the free-throw line, sinking all six of her shots to complete the challenge in 67,43 – less than a second behind the temporary leader Samuel Charlton.
Halfway through the challenge, Susan and Samuel were the clear front-runners, with Hood coming up in third almost ten seconds behind. As the twelve participants settled on the courtside seats which had been reserved for them by the challenge's management – allowing them to watch their favorite champions from up close – it was all but clear to anyone that Samuel's only missed shot left the competition wide open, should anyone of the remaining six walk off with a clean sheet.
Competition resumed at halftime. Roy Anderson and Brianna Newell took Susan's example to heart, posting two decent runs capped by an excellent shooting performance. Both of them missed a single shot – the black bear whiffing his very last ball, his shooting arm still weak from the monkey bars – still enough for Roy to climb up on the podium with a score of 74,36, and for Brianna to follow suit in fourth position, half a second behind. Hal Dufrain's mini-clone, DeAngelo Millwood, wasn't nearly as accurate, taking his time on most obstacles and missing the second shot of each rack.
Who definitely impressed the Crawdad Stadium crowd, though, was young American bulldog Christian Bond.
Son of a steelworker and a gym owner, the 4'9” canine came out strong – quickly dashing through the first obstacle course before nailing all three shots on his first rack. Earlier in the competition, we'd seen some of the smaller kids struggle with the monkey bars, but Christian handled the obstacle with ease, swinging from one peg to the next with spider-like agility and never slowing down. The crowd greeted him with a roaring cheer as he jumped down and approached his last rack – missing his second shot, but nailing the third after it bounced on the rim for a few seconds. As the ball touched the silk, Christian was already tackling the tire walk, dashing through the final section before crossing the finish line in 63,58, a comfortable lead of three seconds dividing him from Charlton.
The crowd positively exploded into a thunderous applause, one that I'd never thought I'd seen being tributed to a sixth-grader. Christian had his arm raised into the air, palm rounded into a fist, loving every second of the attention as 12,000 people screamed his name in rhythmic unison. His white-and-black, short furred coat was slightly matted by the sweat from his exertion, but he looked well and truly ready to give the challenge another go.
The last menace to Christian's primacy could have come from the other canine in the roster: 13-year-old husky Nathan Skordahl, who had similarly impressed at the morning rehearsals.
Like Samuel Charlton, young Nate is following in his parents' footsteps – Hannibal Højbjerg Skordahl was drafted by Santa Cruz in 1999, becoming the first and only Danish citizen to ever play in the FBA in his short stint with Clefs and Mudpuppies, while his mother Jessica Waters was American long distance running champion in 2001 and 2002.
Nate's training in both basketball and endurance running came through in his performance, but his two misses (one for each rack) were too many to pose a serious threat to the leader, barely earning him a place in the top half of the standings. Likewise, river otter Ellis Rinaudo was in line with 3rd place after a good showing on the monkey bars, but collapsed at the second rack where he failed to score a single basket.
Christian Bond, the 11-year-old American bulldog from Jackson, Mississippi, was crowned the Voodoo Pup Challenge's first winner.
“The course is a ton of fun. I knew I would ace it, but the other boys were pretty good, too,” he said, full of youthful, cocky exuberance – shortly after Biloxi's General Manager Macon Waldrop had put the gold medal around his neck. “I can't wait to visit the facilities and meet up with all the players.”
When asked about his son, Harvey Bond can't help but stifle a proud laugh. Bond, 42, is the typical American blue collar, earning his pay as a steelworker since his late teens.
“He's our little whirlwind,” he says, patting young Chris on his head. “He's got so much energy we can hardly contain him. He doesn't ever get tired from playing ball. I'm not surprised in the slightest he performed so well.”
But can Christian Bond succeed as a member of the next generation of pro basketball stars? His AAU coach Moe Lesniewski, who traveled all the way from Jackson alongside Bond's family just to watch the kid compete, thinks it's too early to say.
“He's exceptionally good for his age, yeah. He already plays against kids who got two full years on him, and making most of them look downright bad...but there's no telling how he will be in ten years. What I do know is that he's a great player to have on our team – him and DeShane Postell, who was also here as an alternate. We're currently unbeaten in our league, and those two make up a big chunk of our success.”
Bond's parents are the first to be aware of how overhyping media exposure can damage their son's chances. “Our primary goal is to make sure Christian gets proper education, and that he has fun sporting around with his peers,” Harvey says. “We're not going to push him into anything he's not comfortable to tackle on his own, but at the same time we can't help but being constantly surprised by his motivation. He's big on watching EweTube, [watching] videos of guys like Redding and Rufus, trying to learn about the little stuff they do and then imitate them on the court. He already has his mind set on playing at Pack Territory,” he tells us, shaking his head in disbelief at what he himself is saying. “Just hope this win of his won't get in his head.”
All in all, though, the first Voodoo Pup Challenge was a rousing success.
“It came out much better than we expected,” says Tyler Pitcher, the main man behind the project's realization. “All kids performed admirably and the audience really got behind the competition. It was a wonderful showcase from some of the best young talent in Mississippi, and even though it's early to say, I really think there will be a second edition. We hope some other teams follow our example.”
Capsule by Muddypaws
The half time Voodoo Pup Challenge delighted the crowd at Crawdad Stadium, and had both teams cheering, along with the spectators, for the young contestants. At the end of the event, silver medals and jersey's were passed out, with quite a few of those jersey's getting signed as well. The highlight, of course, was the gold metal winner of the Voodoo Pup Challenge; they were presented with their medal, and their jersey by all of the Voodoo.
Before the end of the half time event, the young competitor was asked by a reporter, if there was anything that could top winning the gold metal and the upcoming day with the team? After a few well placed whispers into the ears of the team, the reporter got her answer as the team took turns carrying their champion on their shoulders. And, with most of the Voodoo ranging between an average of 6ft, 4inches and 7 feet, this pup got one heck of a view of Crawdad, and the spectators!