Courting kids  |  Former basketball model seeks to fill gap for fatherless children

If Willie Briscoe had his way, school would have ended in early June, weeks before he would have to face the humiliation of celebrating Father’s Day with his classmates. Each year the annual rite of crafting construction paper cards in tribute to dad was drudgery for a young man whose father was no longer a part of his life.

“I remember it being such a lonely, embarrassing time for me,” Briscoe said. “As a kid you didn’t know what to do with those emotions. You couldn’t really make a card for anyone when you knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere. A lot of times I just remember making those cards and then, on the way home from school when no one was looking just dumping them in the trash. Now I have three kids of my own and to think about not being there for my kids … it’s a devastating thought.”

Decades later Briscoe is redeeming that experience through Hope Leadership Foundation, a multifaceted ministry that is reaching inner-city children who are also floundering without the direction of their dads.

“The general theme in the inner cities and the Third World countries is the breakdown of the family unit where the father is not present, and that is what I had in my home,” the married father said. “For years I was confused about a lot of things. So the Hope Leadership Foundation really exists to fill in that gap.”

As is common in single-parent households, Briscoe was well on his way to giving in to the streets, but was pulled back by a sixth-grade teacher who refused to give up his grip on the student’s shoulder.

“He just reached into my life when I was probably running in the wrong direction, not doing anything really bad but just with bad group of guys,” Briscoe said. “He said I was called to be something different.”

As Briscoe’s childlike frame began to give way to something tailor-made for basketball, he joined a team started by his teacher as a way to keep students off of the street.

“You’re gonna get a scholarship because your mom can’t afford to put you through school,” the teacher kept pounding into Briscoe’s adolescent skull. “He was the first man to reach into my life and challenge me to do better.”

Even with solid guidance from his mother and the persistent mentoring of his teacher, Briscoe confesses that not having a father created an emotional vacuum. He recalls sabotaging a plan by one of his Little League coaches to convert Briscoe to a pitcher because of his long arms and big hands.

“I was pretty insecure about my abilities as a young boy and that fear kind of overrode any kind of deep desire to be a pitcher,” he said. “(There was) just a fear of showing up at a tryout with no one to represent me or pat me on the back or help me sign in or help me take some of those other first steps when the other guys had their dad to play ball with them and help them take those initial steps.

“I could have easily just faded into the background without anyone knowing I was there or not and let fear and insecurity play me. I think about the opportunities that I passed up out of fear and insecurities and the lack of having someone there to encourage me.”


Fill-in fathers
In launching his now-four-year-old foundation, Briscoe said his vision is to redeem his own experiences by providing resources and role models to other fatherless children.

“I do have a lot of memories about not having a father around to teach me how to throw a ball or catch a ball or to play a particular sport, so a lot of what we do is integrated with sports, the things that young boys and girls want to do. We want to be positive role models in their lives.”

In addition to hosting sports camps and other community outreaches, the foundation now offers an after-school academy where 25 children from Barrio Logan are getting mentoring, tutoring and other services. The next phase will offer reconciliation programs designed to begin rebuilding relationships between fathers and their children.


Sports as a vehicle
Turning to sports to serve inner-city children comes naturally to Briscoe, who played college basketball for a couple of years before becoming a sports athletic model doing work representing Nike, Adidas, Powerade, Gillette and the Portland Trailblazers.

“I got to the point where I was Michael Jordan’s double and I was getting deeper and deeper in my sin. Money was not really an issue,” he said. “I just got to the end of myself and was sitting in a very dark situation one night and I just thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I was looking around at the people I was with and thought ‘I don’t want to be like that in the future.’”

So he prayed.

“The Lord miraculously intervened in life,” he said. “I had a very dramatic conversion. I went from running around doing a lot of knucklehead type of things and being a leader of a group of guys, 10 or 15 guys that were following me, to cutting it all off, changing direction to the point that people literally thought I lost my mind.”

He came to Southern California to put distance between his past and his new faith pursuit.

“I was basically on my face in the sand in Long Beach just feeling remorseful about my sin and understanding for the first time I had to apologize to God,” he said.

At age 30, Briscoe returned to college, this time at Point Loma Nazarene University, to finish his degree and to play basketball, a dramatic turn from his glamorous days living in the Pacific Northwest.

“I was all over billboards all over the world,” he said of his commercial work with Jordan. “That was the pinnacle of that world. You can’t do anything better, especially in the ’90s, than being Michael Jordan’s double.”

In the transition, his commitment to basketball shifted from an opportunity to make money to something far greater.

“When I got saved I began loving basketball, seeing it as a gift more than something that I did because I was tall,” he said.


A restored relationship
After earning his kinesiology degree, Briscoe opened up his own personal training business, serving residents in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Carlsbad. In late 2010, responding to the inner tugging of his soul, he sponsored sports camps that morphed into his full-time foundation. He walked away from his fitness company.

“One restored relationship from a father toward his child is worth it,” said Briscoe, who is now able to offer his own personal story of hope and reconciliation after finally reuniting with his own father. Their meeting— after a 31-year estrangement—came on the eve of Briscoe’s wedding.

Briscoe welcomed him back by including him in the wedding.

“We’ve been working on our relationship for the last nine years since he’s been back in my life, so it is never too late,” he said. “It’s going to look different for everyone but I thank God that God restored me back to my earthly father, who is a Christian now. I look forward to having something to do with that happening on a large scale in other kid’s lives.”

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— by Lori Arnold

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