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Men’s Basketball Team Combines Sports
And Life Lessons on D.C. Trip


West Windsor, N.J. – The Mercer County Community College men’s basketball team combined the sport they love with some life lessons that will serve them in the future. The team headed for Washington, D.C., December 20-21 for a trip that has become an annual tradition under Head Coach Levy, now in his sixth season.

According to Levy, the tone for the trip was set as the bus headed south with the showing of the movie "42,” a biography of baseball legend Jackie Robinson.  “I have always emphasized that the guys need to have ‘the courage not to fight’ a la Robinson.  Interestingly, when that line came up in the movie, one of the players said, ‘That’s what you always say, Coach.’”  Levy notes that the purpose of the trip is provide a chance for team members to share experiences off the court, to visit the nation’s capital, and to get a perspective from beyond the college and the county. 

The Vikings’ first stop was the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, which is under construction in Southeast Washington. Levy’s friend, Tal Alter, is the academy’s executive director and took the team on a tour of the site.  “He explained the program’s purpose, which is to provide inner city youth with training in baseball, along with academic instruction and support.  It’s the kind of program that can change lives,” Levy said.

From there, the Vikings went to the Verizon Center, where they got an opportunity to play on the Washington Wizards’ practice court.  They also spoke to several Wizards players, along with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Vice President of Basketball Administration Tommy Sheppard.  (In addition to Levy, Sheppard has close ties to retired MCCC basketball coach Howie Landa, in whose honor the Mercer basketball court is named.)

Members of the MCCC men's basketball team with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld at the Wizards practice facility inside the Verizon Center.

Tal Alter (center), Executive Director of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, on a hard hat tour with Vikings players.

Next on the schedule was dinner at an Italian restaurant called Tesaro’s, organized by Coach Levy’s friend Rich DiPippo.  Levy notes that this dinner has become a highlight of the trip each year.  “Several of my friends come to the dinner and speak about their life experiences.  Each year, some connections are made.  It is a good opportunity for the guys to learn about different professions, hear life lessons, and make potential contacts with people who may be able to assist them in the future.”

Levy was especially pleased to have Brian Royal join the group for dinner.  One of his former players when Levy was an assistant coach at George Washington University, Royal earned in bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 1988 and was the first and only member of his family to graduate from college.  Levy observes that Royal has faced many of the challenges that MCCC players face.  “He was able to offer perspectives and share advice that our players can relate to,” he said.  
A former Mercer player also made an appearance at the dinner.  Paco Boussougou, who now lives in D.C., was the center for the 2009-10 Vikings squad that went to nationals.  After graduating from Wilmington University, Boussougou moved to the city to pursue his MBA.

The busy day ended with a tour of the Martin Luther King and Lincoln memorials.  “The guys were very interested,” Levy said.  “They were curious to learn more about the legacies of these two great Americans.”
And to top off the trip, the Vikings got up the next day and played a great game against Frederick Community College, beating them on the road 72-64.

The Vikings are currently 10-9 as they approach the final month of the regular season.   Next Thursday, Feb. 6, they face Burlington County College at home and observe Breast Cancer Awareness Night, along with the women’s team.

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