Matt Goul: Impact Academy remembers NaGus Griggs
HERSHEY >> NaGus Griggs isn't forgotten.
A teenager who played basketball like countless others at Hershey's Giant Center, Griggs won a district championship last year with New Hope Academy. He lived six more months.
A gunshot to the head ended Griggs' life by early September.
"We walked up as a team, and we put Gus' jersey in that coffin," said David Archer, his former coach. "No one outside our locker room understands what we've been through."
New Hope Academy closed last spring after Griggs, Archer and others won a district championship.
"We've spent almost as much time crying as we have celebrating," said Archer, now the basketball coach at Hilda Goodling Impact Academy.
Impact sits in place of New Hope, the York charter school that was shut down. Archer remains. So do four of his former New Hope players, who got a day to celebrate.
They smiled, jumped and hugged each other after Impact's 65-59 win Friday against Millersburg. They waited in the locker room for Archer, who straggled behind after interviews. When he caught up, they doused him with water.
"I didn't believe we could get through this a couple months ago," junior Elliott Wilson said, "but I promised somebody up there (Griggs) that respected me that I'd do this for him."
Impact's road to a district title is complex.
As a single-A school, its enrollment is small. According to the PIAA, it has an enrollment of 11 boys. Ten played Friday.
Its leading scorer, senior Juwan Gooding, arrived after finding basketball success in Massachusetts. A freshman starter previously played in the Virgin Islands.
They all found a home at 459 W. King St. in York.
"In the inner city, faces change but situations don't," Archer said. "When New Hope closed, we just didn't want to relinquish these kids. We wanted to get them to the end of this thing to make sure their lives stay on this track.
"I'm going to work hard not to lose another kid."
Archer can identify with his players. He says he was once like them, and playing basketball nearby in Harrisburg was a positive.
His passion is undeniable.
A few minutes into Friday's district final, Archer slammed his clipboard on the floor. He joked afterward that he did it a second time for show.
Each stomp and yell is for his players. That's why they waited for him afterward in the locker room, using a team manager to try and barricade the door behind him for the dousing.
"I'll walk in and let them pour water on me every single day if they can just have a moment being a kid," he said.
New Hope's title win last season served somewhat as a political statement. Players and coaches wore shirts that read "SAVENEWHOPE" while a crowd chanted for them.
There was no such gathering for Impact.
All that mattered to the dozen players and their coaches was each other.
"We just wanted to show and prove to everyone that we were back," junior Nykam Beverley said.
Beverley is one of the four — with Wilson, Eddie Jimenez and Louis Valentin — to have won gold medals with New Hope and Impact. Their white jerseys with red trim from last year were replaced with white and blue.
Back at school in their home gym, the padding for the New Hope Mighty Ants still rests behind each basket as Impact Academy establishes itself.
The past blurs with the future for Impact and its players. Wilson, who scored 22 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, admitted Friday afternoon plenty hasn't changed.
He calls his teammates his brothers and thinks of Archer like a father.
"We lost a couple players," Wilson said, "but it still feels the same."
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.