Sunday, January 18, 2004

Molding winners on court, in life

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Rhonda Craig is girls basketball coach at Taft Information Technology High School.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
Basketball is only part of the game for Rhonda Craig, who coaches the girls' team at Taft Information Technology High School in the West End.

Life is the only game that counts.

That is why Craig, a 1988 graduate of the school, is so proud of the fact that some of the girls she has coached over the past four seasons have come back to volunteer to help the current team.

"They're actually trying to give something back by helping others," said Craig, 33.

Even better, she said, all of those girls are going to college.

Basketball was Craig's ticket to a scholarship and a college education. Now, she works 25 to 30 hours a week to motivate other young womento be better athletes - and better people.

She does it on top of her regular full-time job at Hamilton Choices, an agency that cares for children with severe behavioral problems. Her coach's pay is plowed back into the Taft basketball program, paying for road trips and equipment.

In recent years, Taft, in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, was one of the lower-performing schools. But dropout rates have been falling and graduation rates rising.

Nearly all of Craig's senior players have graduated, and most of those have gone on to college.

"It used to be the girls just talked about getting through high school," she says. "Now, I hear them talking about where they want to go to college.

"That's my job satisfaction."

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