Bit by bit, a new gymnasium floor is rounding into shape at Don Bosco Christo Rey High School in Takoma Park. It is still unfinished, but soon enough, the boys’ basketball team, which used to practice on a tile floor with roll away baskets, will have a much improved court and drop down hoops.
As the court goes through its process of construction, so does the basketball program at the school that opened in 2007. This summer, Athletic Director Chris Lesesne, who is entering his second year with the Wolfpack, had the team participate in the Born to Bump Summer League at Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. The league featured top-flight teams such as Gonzaga, Wilson and Our Lady of Good Counsel. Don Bosco struggled throughout the league and failed to win a game, but Lesesne said he saw it as a great learning experience for a team that is still getting used to playing more organized basketball and features a few first-time team players.
“They grew tremendously,” Lesesne said. “We played Maret the first game and Good Counsel throughout the regular season. We ended up playing those teams again and it was a different caliber. I believe we’ve earned a lot of respect no matter what the score was just on how much we matured and improved during the summer.”
But the Don Bosco players, most of whom reside in D.C. and Prince George’s County and have limited financial resources, according to the school, find themselves in a unique situation. Their biggest challenge comes in the form of time management. During the school year, they have to learn to balance school, athletics and Don Bosco’s Corporate Work Study Program. Every student at Don Bosco participates in the program, and, according to the school’s marketing director, Claire Wyrsch, mostly have entry-level clerical jobs at law firms, accounting firms, hospitals and even NASA.
“It really opens their eyes to possibilities,” Wyrsch said. “They’re seeing professions that they’ve never imagined.”
Both Lesesne and Wyrsch know that the work program will prevent the Wolfpack from ever becoming a dominant atheltics’ program. It provides scheduling challenges — they often have to play games on Sundays when most other schools have the day off — and takes time away from practice. But Lesesne and Wyrsch also reiterated the fact that the school’s focus has always been on education. Lesesne believes that athletics can help instill a well-rounded high school experience for the students and serves as another key to a college education.
“We’re not looking to be a big powerhouse,” Lesesne said. “Our focus is to give our young men and women an opportunity to achieve in academics.”
He credits the second-year coaching staff of Jack Buchanan and Jerry Mitchell, both longtime coaching veterans of CYO basketball, with maintaining that message.
“[Buchanan and Mitchell] are very much invested in our program and understanding what the mission of Don Bosco Cristo Rey is as far as educating our students,” Lesesne said. “Bringing these two gentlemen in could not have been a much better reward because of the heart that they show, the passion that they give our young men in becoming who they are and knowing the game of basketball.”
Buchanan and Mitchell will have a tough task ahead of them this coming season, but they expect to return nine players, including four seniors, whom Lesesne called the core of the team. Dematri Justice, a rising senior, is the returning leading scorer. Lesesne said he expects more wins this season as the players and coaches get even more familiar with one another and develop a more sophisticated offense.