The Athens Review
Sunday night brought fans of all ages out to a packed Leon Spencer Court at Cardinal Gym for an entertaining night of basketball action, as the Harlem Ambassadors battled the Henderson County Hula Hoopsters.
Fans also witnessed a wedding proposal as Charles Newkirk popped the question to his fiancee Laci Crance prior to the fourth quarter as the Harlem Ambassadors won, 60-40. Following some tears from Crance, she said Yes — to which Newkirk said it was a last-minute decision to pop the question.
The Ambassadors brought their unique style of basketball — which included games with the kids, a dance off with the Hula Hoopsters, a basketball-turned-football game in the final minutes of the contest and comedic bits mixed throughout the night.
Twenty volunteers took part in the game for the Henderson County Hula Hoopsters. Women on the team include retired teacher Julie Smith, athletic trainer Anne Morton, Trinity Valley Community College women’s basketball Coach Elena Lovato and First State Bank of Athens employee Kourtney Gillert.
Men participating in the game included Brian Shaw, Dean Nuckolls, Dr. Glendon Forgey, Justin Busby, David Grasch, Jason Bosher, Freddie Paul, Cliff Bomar, Tony Kalawe, Justin Saunders, Josh Saunders, Winston McCowan, Michael Taylor, Justin Farrar, Michael Hannigan and Dr. Jordan Risinger.
The Hula Hoopsters split off into groups of five for four 8-minute quarters during the 2-hour contest.
The event was part of a fundraising effort for the the Henderson County United Way and its goal of $185,000 this year.
Kalawe, who is the chairman for the Henderson County United Way, was pleased with the turnout at the event.
“It was very important,” Kalawe said. “One of the things that we wanted to do was have something new and different that we have never had here in Henderson County, and a way to spice up our United Way campaign. This was the perfect fit, and it is a great family event.”
During the night, Lade Majic, an 18-year professional with the Ambassadors, was leading the entertainment as the ShowWoman and coach.
She found her way into the crowd, had fun with the officials, and pinned two Hula Hoopsters players to the ground during the night.
“We had a blast playing against this group,” Majic said. “The United Way does so many different things for the community that they serve, and it is an honor for us to have them invite us in, and reach out to help raise funds for everything they are doing in the community.”
Trinity Valley Community College Lady Cardinals Head Coach Elena Lovato was the coach for the Hula Hoopsters, and got involved in the comedic action late in the game.
Following a tackle on one of the Ambassadors during the football game portion of the night, Lovato went and pulled the shorts down of one of the players. Once that happened, Lovato was chased around Cardinal Gym, and escaped before being brought back out for an entertaining dance number to end the night.
According to its website, the mission of the Harlem Ambassadors is to deliver a quality basketball show to its audiences throughout the U.S. and internationally.
“The Ambassadors’ operation is professional in all aspects. In addition to having a wholesome family entertainment product, we are also good citizens and willing role models for youth, promoting the values of staying in school, staying off drugs and fostering racial harmony,” the site reads.
Majic said entertaining fans in the smaller communities is something the Ambassadors love to do across the country.
“I love these communities because they are family-oriented, and it seems like everybody knows each other,” Majic said. “When we are having fun with the all-star teams, people are like, that's my pastor or that's my teacher.”
Kalawe said with the Ambassadors taking time out to visit Athens Independent School District and LaPoynor Independent School District, the focus of the team is not just about the game of basketball.
“It is not just about basketball, but character-building, and it was a great time,” Kalawe said. “We decided that bringing them here was something we wanted to do, and we pursued it, and I am glad that we did. I really think this could turn into a good annual event. I am already thinking ahead for that one.”