I rise today to honor the memory of Holcombe Rucker, proud son of Harlem and a true visionary with respect to youth development, mentoring and community building.
When Holcombe Rucker was a young man, he made a transformative life decision: He put every ounce of his youthful energy into the game of basketball. Upon returning from distinguished service in WWII, he established the Junior Basketball League at a Harlem playground on 138th Street.
For the next 20 years, until his life was tragically taken by cancer at the age of 38, Holcombe Rucker dedicated every fiber of his existence to a singular model of educational empowerment, youth mentoring and life-building through basketball.
A whole generation of Harlem youth came through his program, many from straight out of Frederick Douglass Junior High School, where Holcombe Rucker taught. The lessons that Holcombe Rucker imparted in the classroom intersected with those he taught on the court and produced young individuals who thrived both in some of our finest colleges and universities as well as on the basketball hardwood.
The two gentlemen we are joined by today on the Senate floor are products of the Holcombe Rucker school: Bob McCullough and Fred Crawford. Owing to the presence of Holcombe Rucker in their life, these two men excelled in high school and went off to accomplish tremendous feats in college—both on and off the basketball court. And while Fred had a successful five-year career in the NBA and Bob was the second leading scorer in the NCAA in 1964-65, averaging an incredible 36.4 points per game, their greatest collective accomplishments exist in the realm of carrying on the singular vision of Holcombe Rucker over the past 50 years.
Bob and Fred are known as the Rucker Pro Legends, and for the past five decades they have been organizing various tournaments and leagues at Rucker Park, while concurrently creating and fostering the empowering organization “Each One, Teach One,” an award-winning mentoring and counseling program that replicates the Holcombe Rucker model.
“Each One, Teach One” reaches out to young men and women in the community—starting as early as age 7—and continues to use the sport of basketball as a unifying and powerful force to motivate our youth to prepare for and pursue higher educational opportunities. “Each One, Teach One” combines athletic competition, lesson learning and mentoring with college career workshops, academic vocational training and college tours to ensure that our Harlem youth are ready to lead and make a difference in the world.
So this summer, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Rucker Pro Legends—led, as always, by Bob McCullough and Fred Crawford—we pause with a grateful heart, knowing the thousands of lives that these two men and their network of friends and supporters—several of whom are in the Senate gallery today—have touched.
I ask that you join me in giving a round of applause to these two exceptional New Yorkers.