They had known each other for just a few hours—Mason, a 13-year-old member of the Be You Stay True program, and Andrew Curiel, a junior on the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s men’s basketball team whom he met this Saturday morning.
But their brief interactions were already enough to convince Mason that Curiel was a friend.
“I just met him but I like talking to him, he’s cool,” Mason said.
Interactions like these are what Curiel, along with teammate Francisco Zeno, hope to produce as part of their program. Together Curiel and Zeno created the Be You Stay True Program, which offers free basketball camps and lessons for kids ages 6 to 14. On Saturday afternoon, Curiel and Zeno welcomed members of the program to Mount Saint Vincent.
“With AAU and all the programs that they go to, I know they might be feeling pressure from all different sources whether it’s parents, coaches, or friends,” Curiel said. “It’s like, just be a kid. Just dance when you want to. Just shoot hoops when you want to. That was our main goal with this program.”
Mason and his 7-year-old brother, Tyler, had the opportunity to play on the court at Mount Saint Vincent during halftime of Saturday’s contest against Mount Saint Mary College.
“I know all the kids, last year especially, they were just excited to play in front of the college crowd,” Curiel said. “They don’t know the difference between [Division 1], D2 or D3, so for them to get the chance to play in front of them and just be here is totally like an awesome experience for them.”
For Mason and Tyler, it was their first time being on a college court.
“It was too far,” Mason joked about the height of the rim.
While Mason and Tyler were the only members of the Be You Stay True Program who were present for the halftime shoot around on Saturday, the program is home to 30 kids. The idea originated three years ago, while Curiel and Zeno were hanging out in their dorm doing what most college students do—scroll through their phone and just talk. Curiel recalls that he was searching through Instagram when he saw people post about programs they were doing over the summer. Curiel, who didn’t have any plans for the summer, asked Zeno what he was planning. Zeno also had nothing planned.
“We were like, ‘Alright, let’s do a basketball camp,’” Curiel said. “Everyone was doing their own stuff, why not us?”
From there, the challenge was coming up with a name. But it didn’t prove to be too difficult for Curiel, who remembered a phrase his mentor during middle school and high school would always tell him: “Be you.”
This past summer, Curiel and Zeno hosted a basketball camp for their kids at Monsignor Scanlan High School, the duo’s alma mater. They reached out to friends and family to volunteer and help coach the kids, many of whom Curiel and Zeno say immediately agreed to offer their help.
And while their camp might have resembled an official basketball camp with drills and competitions taught by experienced basketball players, their camp was different. It was free. Curiel and Zeno, who both participated in expensive AAU programs during high school, wanted to offer an alternative to parents.
“I know growing up I went to a lot of camps like Five Star and those kinds of camps that were pretty expensive,” Zeno said. “I knew that these kids in the inner city, they can’t really afford those camps so I feel like me and [Curiel] should just give a free camp, give our knowledge on the game of basketball and just make it so these kids just grow and have fun and have nothing to worry about, expenses or anything like that.”
While Curiel and Zeno are happy with the progress of the program and the impact it has had on the kids who have participated in it, they are not satisfied with remaining complacent.
They want to expand to include other sports, as well as hold events and camps for the kids more often.
Saturday’s Be You Stay True day at Mount Saint Vincent was a step towards that progress, and on Sunday, the kids returned to Mount Saint Vincent for a skills competition. After that, Curiel and Zeno will plan towards the summer camp, which they want to make a weekend event in order to teach kids about more than just basketball.
After all, that is why they created the program, to allow kids to grow and have fun away from the pressures of competitive basketball.
“We want to focus on not only things that are on the court but things like how we’re doing now, people skills, how to have an interview, how to present yourself,” Zeno said. “Things that go farther than basketball.”