RICHMOND, Va. -- The John Marshall High School boys' and girls' basketball teams returned to Richmond on Tuesday after spending more than a week in Angola.
"Honestly, it's been an amazing experience," John Marshall High School 12th grader and point guard Janiyaha Pickett said about the once-in-a-lifetime experience she and her classmates had in Africa. "Being able to learn the history, the side that you don't learn in school...It's been, like I said, an amazing experience — getting to see new things and seeing that we have amazing opportunities here in America that some people don't have."
The trip to Africa was a surprise from, among others, former Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and the Tucker family of Hampton, Virginia after the boys' team won a national championship season last school year.
Tucker family members joined the trip.
11th-grader and forward Desmond Rose said that made the experience much better.
"We can see the emotion and what they, what they really feel. We can see it through their eyes," Rose said.
Pickett, a senior point guard on the girls' team, said she had a spiritual awakening at what's known as the "place of no return," a place where Africans were either sent into slavery or death.
"If they were kept in Angola to die, they would have to walk. And then after that walk, they'd be burned alive. So that part hit me," she said.
To help balance the trip's heavy history, the students also experienced lighthearted moments in some African villages and competed against teams from Angola.
The boys' team, which won a national title last year, won all three games it played. The girls' team came close to winning the one game in which they participated.
"It was very fun and exciting," Kameron Sookins, John Marshall High School Boys' Basketball senior point guard, said. "The rules are a little different but you know we were able to adjust and get used to it and get it going."
They also took donations they handed out to villagers.
"We really are involved in our community and through community service projects all the time. So, to take that vision of community service to a whole other country in Angola — that was probably the highlight of the day," said John Marshall High School Principal Monica Murray. "We gave shoes and clothes, the young people played with bubbles with the children in a village. We gave t-shirts, bags away. So, that was really a rich experience."
John Marshall coaches hope the students take what they learned and saw in Angola and apply it to their daily lives back home in Richmond.
"So, if we're in the fourth quarter down four with four minutes to go, that's not tough. That's not hard. It's just a challenge," John Marshall High School Boys' Basketball head coach Ty White said. "And that's something we can easily get over because we've already seen something hard."
"I hope this experience actually changes their mindsets and, and, and use it as fuel and motivation to not only be better in the game of basketball, but to be better in life," added John Marshall High School Girls' Basketball Team Head Coach Virgil Burton.
For the students, that is what they intend to do.
"I would take to, honestly, appreciate everything that I have. Seeing that some people don't have much. Being very grateful for what I have here in America," said Pickett.
"Just seeing all those kids and how do people live out there, just help me be grateful what I got back at home. Like, all the stuff I took for granted back home, I'm grateful for it now," added Sookins.
Some of the John Marshall students and coaches said they planned to stay in touch with the friends they made in Angola and help them through fundraisers and maybe even get them to the United States.
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