It’s a late-summer day at Nevin Park in north Lincoln.
The sun shines on a world of green, and boys in shorts fill a basketball court that has weeds growing through cracks in the concrete. Balls arc through a hoop with no net.
And then — 3 minutes and 32 seconds into the 11-minute video — a horn sounds and suddenly a melting pot of America is running toward a small white bus.
Angelo Stabler is narrating this video, explaining how he started a nonprofit that mentors kids in basketball and life.
The founder of Guidance To Success For Youth is on the bus laughing with his players as the camera rolls. He’s running drills, the all-business coach. He’s preaching success at the front of a classroom.
Stabler, 32, was still in college at Nebraska Wesleyan University when he founded GTS. He’d graduate with a degree in history and go on to earn a master’s degree from Bellevue University.
He says all this on that video. He talked about his childhood, too, witnessing gang violence, witnessing drug use, moving from house to house, school to school, starting over every year. He talked about his grandma’s house, the one place he could be a kid. Be Angelo.
One of his basketball players watched those 11 minutes at home Tuesday night.
A week earlier, that small white bus had broken down. The 2000 Chevy Express needed a new engine, and the $7,000 it would cost to replace it was more than the 15-seat bus was worth. More than the nonprofit had in its budget.
The basketball player talked to his dad, then he sat down at his computer and typed out a plea.
Hi my name is Max Koebernick, I am 13 years old and an eighth grader at Dawes Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska. I decided to start a Gofundme page without telling any of my coaches because I want to help out our team ... our family. We are a family.
He set a goal of $10,000.
We need money for a new bus (or an old bus that runs)! We also need money for some essential things like basketballs, cones, snacks, sandwiches, gas for the bus ...
He ended his plea.
Please consider helping me fund our new bus. It travels all around the city of Lincoln and picks up my friends so they can be part of GTS and ... contribute to their community now and in the future.
Then he made the first donation: $10.
* * *
Max and his buddies are in the gym after school at Dawes on Wednesday.
They're red-cheeked, in the midst of practicing for their school team, but they take a break to talk about another team: The Buffalo Soldiers.
Four Dawes boys are on Coach Stabler’s squad: Rojelio Puentes, Nathaniel Miller, Hudsen Rueschhoff and Max.
They have a practice scheduled at Lincoln High tonight, although no one is sure how all the players are going to get there.
“There was no practice yesterday because of the bus,” Max says. “No practice tomorrow because of the bus. Probably no practice Saturday because of the bus.”
The bus is important. It takes them to games and practices, to the Wesleyan campus and the Methodist church for GTS sessions.
At GTS, they’re not just guards and forwards and three-point shooters for a coach named Angelo.
“He teaches you a lot of life skills,” Max says. “How to act around other people.”
“He teaches you to have a good work ethic,” Hudsen says. “Be prepared.”
“You gotta have heart,” says Nathaniel. “If you don’t play your hardest, you’re not going to play.”
Coach Angelo is a member of the Omaha tribe. He teaches the boys not to stereotype. How to study. To believe in yourself. Believe in each other. Have hope.
“He’s cool,” says Rojelio.
Guidance To Success serves more than 70 kids. It has five basketball teams. Four Buffalo Soldiers teams for the boys. A Soaring Eagles team for girls.
Beyond the basketball court, youth meet three or four times a week in schools and at First United Methodist Church or on the Wesleyan campus in University Place.
“Basketball started it all, it’s kind of like the recruitment,” Stabler says. “But we’ve grown as an organization.”
They take a holistic approach, he says. Education, fitness, athletics, mentoring, educational support, therapeutic services.
A dozen years since its beginning, the organization has begun to outgrow its capacity to serve, Stabler says. It survives on grants and donations, fundraising and insurance reimbursements for therapy.
The group would like to have a permanent home and all of its services under one roof. But right now, more than anything else, it needs a bus.
“That’s what holds GTS up,” Stabler says. “It’s an essential component to our survival.”
Most of the kids in the program don’t have a way to get to practice or to any of the after-school sessions without the white bus, he says.
“This past week, some parents have really stepped up, carpooling and picking up kids. But, really, a lot of stuff is on hold, to be honest with you.”
* * *
Max’s Gofundme account has raised $215.
His dad gave $50.
Doug Koebernick was one of those parents picking up kids for practice last week. He’s watched Stabler since Max joined GTS last year. He calls Stabler an incredible advocate for children. A man with an amazing and inspiring story.
He calls his son Max smart and thoughtful and kind and funny and big-hearted. He calls him a good teammate.
The man who started GTS agrees.
“I don’t know where to start. He’s an amazing young man and he wants to make a difference. To me he’s a little superhero.”
And a Buffalo Soldier who would like to be back on the bus with a team he calls family.