The relationship between the Portland Trail Blazers and St. Mary's Home For Boys goes back decades. It began when former Trail Blazers player and coach Maurice Lucas donated tens of thousands of dollars in janitorial supplies, the byproduct of one of his off court businesses, to the school. Clyde Drexler, during his Hall of Fame career in Portland, often made time to visit St. Mary's.
When Nate McMillan took over as head coach of the Trail Blazers, he made team visits to the residential facility the cornerstone of his charitable. And Terry Stotts, now Portland's head coach, continued that tradition on Dec. 19 with a scrimmage against a team of St. Mary's residents.
"The Blazers have been wonderful to St. Mary's forever," said Lynda Walker, St. Mary's director of development. "(Vice President of Community Relations) Traci Rose and her team just have embraced these kids for 25 years. This was a surprise for our boys today and they didn't know it was going to happen and you can just tell by looking around, seeing the smiles. One boy just came up and said 'This has been the best Christmas of my life.' … It means the world to these kids. One of the boys said to me 'We're all going to go to sleep happy tonight.'"
Coaches and players come and go, but the need to take time out, especially during the holiday season, for for the boys at St. Mary's remains a constant. For more than 120 years, St. Mary's has been caring for Oregon's most at-risk teens, many of whom have been subjected to unspeakable acts perpetrated by people who are supposed to care for them.
"You come to a place like St. Mary's and you know some of the backgrounds of the kids, it certainly does put things into perspective," said Stotts. "I'm glad for our players that they understand and appreciate, not only what they have, but some of the struggles that other people have."
"This one is special because when you see what has happened the last couple of days with kids," said Nicolas Batum
. "You know the background of some of these kids, what they've been through. They're young! They're only teenagers and you know what they've been through already. I don't know if I could survive that. They told us some stories that are just crazy. They are strong. We've met maybe 50 kids and they're strong, stronger than any NBA player.
"You can say 'Oh, we have to practice. We have to be ready to play a game,' but those things are nothing compared to what they've been through. We can't complain."
The boys at St. Mary's are strong, but they still need plenty of help. For most of the boys, who some have labeled as "Oregon's throw away children," St. Mary's is their last chance for rehabilitation before being given up on entirely. Collectively, St. Mary's provides more than 110,000 hours of counseling which, amongst other services, has helped the school achieve an 84 percent success rate for working with the high-risk population that find themselves at the school in Beaverton.
That work will be aided by a $50,000 donation which was presented after the scrimmage and made on behalf of the make it better Foundation
through generous contributions from the Ray Hickey Foundation and the Hedinger Family Foundation.
"The Hickey Family Foundation and the Hedinger Family Foundation have been wonderful to St. Mary's, so that was a beautiful surprise," said Walker. "But I think for the boys, today will be a lifetime memory for them they will never forget. I think especially the team that got to score on the Blazers, that's something they will always remember."
(Click here for more photos from the visit to St. Mary's Home For Boys)