By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

Sure, he has an arm full of American Youth Basketball Tour (AYBT) national title trophies.

He’s even had the honor of coaching national championship teams on both the girls and boys side during the very same year.

But winning isn’t the only thing with which AYBT coach Louis Churchwell of Muskegon (MI) is concerned. In fact, Churchwell likes to say he uses kids’ natural love for basketball to get them help in other areas of their lives.

“I use basketball, use AYBT, as a hook to teach life skills,” said Churchwell. “We’ve had great success on the court, but it’s really a kind of trade off. If they want to get on the bus to play somewhere, the kids know they’ll be participating in our life skills program.”

That program, called RISE (Reaching Individuals Serves and Educates), is Churchwell’s attempt to impart skills like problem solving and anger management to help Muskegon-area youth, many coming from the direst of circumstances, those often in the greatest need of the program’s skills.

Churchwell, chief executive officer of West Michigan Therapy – a rehabilitation and housing center working with both young people and adults, many coming from Muskegon’s beleaguered inner city – is no stranger to service. Simply put, his level of volunteerism is head spinning: Muskegon Public Schools Board of Directors President, board member of the NAACP and Homeless Continuum of Care, a minister with Christ Temple Church, active in youth ministries and mentor to up-and-coming professionals in Muskegon County.

Oh, and he also coaches.

It started when Churchwell was still in high school, when he started coaching elementary teams, ultimately heading teams too numerous to count. Now during the regular season, he assists the Muskegon girls varsity team.

His AYBT squads – the Muskegon Flames and then the Muskegon Wizard – sport some of the premier talent on Michigan’s west coast (its roster once included star USC receiver Ronald Johnson) and often are the best teams on the court. But again, for Churchwell winning is the byproduct of doing things right. He’s a huge proponent of AYBT’s 60/40 philosophy, a rule that ensures every single player sees the court for at least 40-to-60 percent of the tournament.

“AYBT is different because the teams share the mindset that makes the 60/40 rule possible,” said Churchwell. “AYBT does a good job of helping to get everyone involved.”

The organization, along with several other service organizations and agencies, are integral to Churchwell’s mission to provide more than just court time, often donating the AYBT entrance fee in exchange for a commitment to RISE.

Thus, sports and service working together, matching Chuchwell’s vision, matching Churchwell’s life.

And yet, don’t forget that Chuchwell has yet to step on the court hoping to lose. It’s just that in the case of AYBT, everybody on the roster gets a chance to contribute…in an actual game situation.

“We’ve had a lot of great success,” he acknowledged. “And we’ve helped a lot of kids.”

For more information on AYBT tournaments and events, click here.