By AJ Matthew


Excitement roars throughout the roof as I am finally headed back to India after so many years. Words cannot explain the excitement that was built up for this trip. With our brief layover in Dubai, the thrill kept screeching in my body as time went past. Finally, we land in Chennai and I am reminded of one thing that always stuck with me – the smell. Not in a bad way, but it is the certain smell of Indian air that sticks with you. Whether it is from pollution, body odor, spices, or air freshener, it is a smell that you will never forget. As weird as it sounds, that smell assured me that I am back in India!

It was 2am when we arrived, and we walked out of the airport to thousands of people standing there. Remember, it is still 2am. For me, it was not a big deal because I have seen and been through it before. But for others, it was a bit of a culture shock. We arrive to our residence where we will be staying for the duration of the trip and it is a lovely gated community. I was amazed with how such nice places they were. We were fortunate to have a gym to workout in, as well. It is safe to say that the trip started very well, for all of us at that.

Over the first weekend we traveled around and got to know one another. We saw the MGR memorial, went to the market areas, pretty much just getting affiliated with Chennai. Sunday night hit, and it was business time. I could just feel it. We had a good weekend sightseeing, but we all knew we weren’t in India for just sightseeing. We had a much greater task at hand, and that was to change the world for these kids and others around them through Crossover basketball.

We assembled a serious team meeting on Sunday night to go over basics, meet with our partners for the week, and discuss what areas we want to stress to the kids throughout the program. I can honestly say that I was more ready than ever to take on the challenge ahead!

But being ready does not always mean you know what to expect, especially being a first time volunteer. To sum up day one, I was taken by the storm, but not in a bad way. It was very hectic getting kids to listen and sit down, etc. but it was worth it. After day one I realized that I have never smiled as hard or said “good job” as much as I did that day, in my entire life! Sitting back and reflecting on just that simple fact let me know that this experience will only continue to get more amazing.

On some mornings, we were fortunate to visit schools of classes that came to Crossover. We received a tour of the school, met with the head of the school, teachers, and also our students. Being able to see them in their element at school was an amazing thing for us to see because it gave us the opportunity to observe them hard at work all throughout the day, and then come to Crossover after school for 3-4 more hours with even higher energy!

There are way to many kids to name that I honestly will never forget. It all goes back to the little things for me. I repeatedly asked myself, what will make them remember you? For that, I never let myself be caught without a smile. I want them to remember me as the coach who did all he possibly could to teach them the right way and to be the coach who never stopped smiling, even when things got tough.  It wasn’t about me, or our coaches, or anyone else. I could feel it within our team, that it was all about the kids. We are here to impact their futures and teach them educational values through basketball that will be a beneficiary to their future success.

The four pillars: character, teamwork, leadership, and communication. Not only did they play a substantial role in our teaching, but it is something that us coaches will always remember to incorporate into our lives. If we can remember those four words and sync them in our thoughts, actions, mentality, etc. we can all be successful. It is great for the kids to learn the meaning of these words at a young age so they can share with their peers the true meaning and actions in which they represent.

I can try to find one word to describe my overall experience with Crossover, and I would still not have an answer. There were so many emotions and experiences involved that will last a lifetime. On the last day, some of our kids gave us ‘thank you’ letters. I opened one of them immediately after camp and instantly became speechless. I felt my eyes start to weigh heavier than usual and become more moist than normal. Shaun walks over to me and peeks his head over to read the card, so I give it to him and walk a few feet away expressing that the card brought me to tears. Again, it is the little things that mean the most. These kids have impacted my life in nothing but a positive way and I have had such an amazing opportunity to be able to work with every single one of them. We must continue to learn not to take life for granted and to appreciate every single thing we have. We are blessed, nonetheless.

It is now time to move forward and expand. Expand Crossover, expand knowledge, expand everything! It makes me think of this message from A. P. J. Abdul Kalam:

“My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Thank you, Crossover, not just for one thing but for everything. For giving me the opportunity to be a part of something so special to many people around the world. Thank you for giving the opportunity to make new connections, meet new people, and help new people around the world. I am extremely grateful for this experience.

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