WORCESTER— This Sunday at 4pm, the Worcester 78’s will host a benefit game against the Western Mass. Zombies with all proceeds going to help fund Worcester’s leading neighborhood center for residents, the Friendly House.
Several Worcester players are looking forward to having an opportunity to give back to the Friendly House, as many have fond memories from their days of youth participating in basketball programs, after-school programs, or camp programs from years gone by at the neighborhood center.
“I’m looking forward to see how many people turn-out and look forward to seeing my family, friends, and all the people from Worcester, including former teammates,” said Worcester 78’s Mo Horton, who participated in the afterschool program there as a child.
Friendly House is a federally supported neighborhood center where residents can seek services that include; shelter, emergency help, food, medical care, after-school programs, summer programs, and senior programs and counseling.
The Friendly House serves over 4,000 children during the summer months and has helped reach as many as 25,000 residents during the calendar year. They receive state as well as local and private support in order to meet all the needs of the city residents in Worcester.
“It means a lot to have a game and an event like that in the inner city, where I grew up,” said Worcester forward Domonique Bull. “It means a lot since I grew up there with my two sisters.
Some of the Worcester players are returning home to their basketball roots, as Friendly House was known as having the most competitive basketball league in the City of Worcester for all the kids living both in the inner city and outside the city limits.
“I started playing at the Friendly House at 8-years-old,” said Worcester star guard Naadir Tharpe. “I was actually under age, but I wanted to play there so bad since they kept score and the YMCA league at that time didn’t keep score — Friendly House was much more competitive.”
Friendly House also offered a traveling All-Star team, that drew all the top youth players in the City of Worcester, such as Tharpe.
“I played all the way through middle school when the program ended,” Tharpe said. “It was definitely something I would never forget, working with Coach Denny and Jim Wells — I played there my whole life, truthfully.”
‘Coach Denny,’ is a name and a staple to the Friendly House basketball circuit, and several players cited the ‘Coach’ and his ability to teach his players the fundamentals that would lead them to collegiate careers, just as he did for Tharpe, as he attended and played basketball at one of the four-biggest collegiate basketball programs in the world.
“With ‘Coach Denny’, he taught the fundamentals of the game to me,” Tharpe said. “That’s where I learned to pick up the game in that aspect — every year I worked on my left hand and was one of the best players selected to the traveling all-star team every year.”
Tharpe would go on following his middle school years at Friendly House to play varsity basketball as an 8th-grader at St. Peter Marian before attending Brewster Academy (NH), and the University of Kansas to compete on the collegiate level.
“Kansas is one of four schools that has fans all across the world,” Tharpe said. “The Friendly House program definitely helped me get to the collegiate level.”
Other players remember the Friendly House for their discipline in helping youth stay out of trouble while making a positive impact on their lives for years to come.
“Coach Denny has been there a long time and helped me growing up as a [disciplinarian] making sure we were doing well with school and with our basketball,” Bull said, who attended both the after-school and summer programs at Friendly House.
Others within Friendly House such as Jim Wells, also made an impact on the lives of some of his former players.
“I did the afterschool program there with Jim Wells, and he helped me out a lot because I was in a lot of trouble when I was young,” Horton said. “(Wells) would mentor me and taught me a lot.”
Altogether the Friendly House has been a foundation of support for the City of Worcester during the past century, and has continued their mission in doing noble work, in hopes of their programs continuing to grow for young people and their betterment, by living by the Golden Rule.
Sentiments shared on the Friend House website by Nebeha Merhige-Haddad, former Director of Friendly House and President of its first Mother’s Club.
“I know it’s special for our Worcester guys to be able to give back to Friendly House —it’s such a great place,” said Worcester head coach Anthony Leonelli.
More information is available from the Worcester 78s’ website.