By JUSTIN RAINS
It’s an idea that began like anything else, as a conversation between friends.
These were friends with stories to tell. They’d made it out, and now they wanted to show others how they could too.
That, in a nutshell, is the origin story of SIXERinc, a non-profit group based in Palestine and founded by Palestine High School alum Jonathan Cary.
On the surface, SIXERinc looks, simply, like a basketball program for area teens. But to Cary, it’s more than that. It’s a vehicle for breaking a cycle that he knows all too well.
“I’m going to be honest, it’s me. It’s everything that got me to this point right now,” Cary said. “If you just truly look at the roots of it, using myself and (Palestine-native) Adrian (Peterson), it’s a testament to education and athletics.
“He had his athletic ability and got his education at Oklahoma and is now a star running back in the NFL. I used my athletic ability to get my education and I’m now in the business world.”
Cary graduated from Rice University, an education he achieved thanks to his ability on the football field, which earned him a football scholarship.
That, Cary said, changed his stars so to speak. It allowed him to see past the future he thought he would have and realize that he could have any future he wanted.
That’s what inspired SIXERinc, he said. He wants to give local youths that same ability to see past what’s visible and move toward what’s possible.
“I want them to know that people from like circumstances — single parent (households), around drugs or alcohol, a household where advanced education isn’t pressed upon — there’s more to getting a job than what they see in Palestine.
“There are jobs that you might not otherwise know about if you don’t get out and see them.”
SPORTS AS A VEHICLE
SIXERinc is based around the group’s traveling basketball team, something Cary knows all about.
Growing up in Palestine, he and his friends used to play on the East Texas 76ers, a select basketball team that would travel around to tournaments in the summer.
Cary has taken that concept and elevated it with SIXERinc.
The basketball team, which includes players from Palestine, Grapeland and Oakwood, travels the state in the summer months, playing in — and winning — tournaments.
But along they way, they’re experiencing things they wouldn’t get to otherwise.
“In my mind, I see it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between when they get out for the summer and when they get back to school (in the fall),” Cary said. “Why not let me take them to see colleges and go on organizational tours?”
On a trip to a tournament in Waco, the team stopped for a tour of Baylor University. In Houston, they played basketball and also toured Deloitte Consulting, LLP, a consulting firm that Cary used to work for.
The program also allows the players help out with community service projects throughout the summer.
They’ve toured Tyler Junior College and the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas and, while it’s taken most of the last three years to implement, Cary said the kids are starting to figure the process out.
“Three years ago our kids really had no idea of what we were trying to accomplish,” Cary said. “But when I get a phone call now about a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, one of the kids calls me to brag about how fun his college visit was and tells me that he gets it or one of the boys asks me to help him open a bank account, I realize then that what we are doing is working.”
Cary wants nothing more than for SIXERinc to continue growing, and he’s got ambitious plans to make that happen.
He and his partners want to add 20 to 25 more youngsters to the program this summer. Currently, SIXERS basketball is made up of only one team — varsity boys. Cary would like to see that expand to include a varsity (high school age) girls squad as well as a junior varsity (middle school age) boys squad.
Each team would get to travel to tournaments and, in the process, visit colleges and organizations. They would also engage in community service projects.
That won’t be easy. Currently, playing for the SIXERS is free for participants, thanks to donations.
The cost for each player to be in the program is about $600, meaning that adding an additional 20 participants would cost $12,000.
But, with the help of parents that he calls the “backbone of the program,” Cary is confident he can make it happen.
“Kids are going to be kids and really don’t understand the business, but they’ll start to understand more,” he said. “The parents are the people driving this. They’re helping us raise the money and talking to friends about it. You’d be surprised how many people travel to our games.”
He also knows that there are people that believe in his vision, even if they’re not directly affected by it.
Cary knows that because he’s seen it, in the form of a family who wanted to remain unnamed, that gave what Cary called a “generous” donation to the program despite having no ties to SIXERinc.
“They believe like me that in order to make a change, we should invest in our future by investing in our youth,” Cary said. “I think about them almost every day as well as the many other families and businesses in Palestine that have supported SIXERinc.”
Cary hopes to be able to connect his program with local schools and churches, so that its tenants are being taught year-round.
“What I envision for SIXERinc is being an organization that ties it all together,” he said. “Tie in the relationship with the schools, with the YMCA, with churches and with the families.
“During the fall, (the kids) have stuff to do. But in June, July and August, I want this to be a program and organization that we can come together and talk about how we affect the youth.”
He’s already built up strong relationships with local basketball coaches like Palestine’s Bret Botard and Westwood’s Scott Nettles, both of whom help coach at the program’s annual coaches clinic.
“Those relationships are kind of the driver of us growing, in addition to the parents,” he said. “We don’t have a facility and don’t have the access that those guys do.”
‘MORE THAN JUST BASKETBALL’
To Cary, SIXERinc isn’t about basketball. Yes, the basketball team is the basis of the whole program, but that’s not what the program is about.
That’s why he doesn’t stress winning or losing to his team.
“It’s more than basketball and I tell the kids that I don’t care if we win or lose, I just want their best effort,” he said. “I’m more mad if we win by 30 points and didn’t play well (instead of losing).
“That translates into life. If you don’t give your best effort, then you don’t have a chance to be successful.”
By getting through to the program’s participants while they’re still young, Cary said he believes that gives them the best chance to be successful.
Adults can be stubborn when it comes to change, he said, but kids are more receptive.
“As adults I don’t know how much we can change, but with those teenagers, this is the formative years,” he said.
Parents or kids interested in participating, volunteering, and/or getting information about SIXERinc can reach the organization via its Facebook page www.facebook.com/SIXERinc or by phone at 832-524-4948.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org