Monmouth Junction, NJ
BASKETBALL COACH AND ROLE MODEL
November 15, 2012
In the game of basketball, size and strength usually dictate who gets to play center position. An individual at Noor-Ul-Iman School in Monmouth Junction, N.J., possesses these attributes and more, yet you'll only see him on the sidelines during school matchups. But if you equate a generous nature and a firm belief in the power of the game with size and strength, then volunteer coach Anthony Noel is truly the man in the middle at this private Islamic school.
Noor-Ul-Iman School wouldn't have a basketball program at all if not for Noel's efforts. Tuition and funds raised at the school are used for the academic program, and extracurricular activities are run primarily by volunteers. As a lifelong basketball player himself, Noel believes being part of a team teaches important life skills. It prompted him to start the boys' varsity basketball program while his own sons attended the school. Ten years later, staff have pegged him the "most dedicated" volunteer because he continues to coach despite having no children enrolled.
"I started coaching very young and I had a drive which I still have today to coach and to help affect young people outside of the classroom," Noel says. And speaking of drives, Noel faces a long one—of the commuting variety—during basketball season. November through February, he arrives extra early at his electrical engineering job in New York City so he can leave and travel 90 minutes to make 7 p.m. practice start times. He runs a two-hour practice four nights a week and a four-hour one on Sundays, as well as uses his precious vacation time to be on hand for games. Even more remarkable is the fact that the school doesn't have a gym of its own, and the team has to make do with rented facilities.
Despite these obstacles, Noel remains committed to the game and his players. "I think one of the things basketball teaches them is the importance of preparation. I tell them it's very much like school. You have to maintain a certain level of proficiency just as you have to be prepared for high school, for college, or even for an exam," he says. "It also helps them with teamwork and camaraderie. They develop an affection for each other which helps as they go through certain trials and tribulations together."
In speaking of the boys' shared experiences, Noel isn't just referring to victories and losses. Today's political climate means the Muslim school's team is often met with a degree of curiosity when they play non-secular schools, and it's caused some players to feel intimidated. But overcoming negative perceptions is another reason Noel is motivated to coach.
"I think it does a lot for the Muslim community in general for us to have a basketball team," he says. "Sometimes we're the only Muslim kids they've ever played against or even met. They assume or imagine things...and then we show up more or less saying we may not have as good a basketball team as you but you know, we walk on two legs, we eat, we win, we lose, we have highs and lows."
In another life, Noel might have become a teacher, and he admits that passing along his knowledge of basketball has helped satisfy that aspect of his personality. And if he's lucky enough to impart a few life lessons and put a human face on the Muslim community along the way, so much the better.
Students at Noor-Ul-Iman School are fortunate to have such an excellent role model in their midst.
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Upscale Photography