Their secret: Jorge Contreras, an East Los Angeles school district employee who volunteers nights and weekends to be there for his players.

By Elizabeth Holmes
Updated March 07, 2019

In the nearly three years since Jorge Contreras started his youth basketball club, he hasn’t missed a practice. Back in May 2016, Contreras, now 44, a distribution supervisor overseeing dispersal of food, supplies, and equipment to 1,000 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, learned that neighborhood kids couldn’t afford local programs and were being turned away; children whose families could pay often only got to play three months out of the year. Contreras was teaching his own sons, now ages 8 and 13, to play in a park and saw the chance to start a club.

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He posted about the first practice of the East Los Angeles Basketball Club on Nextdoor, inviting kids ages 5 to 14 to come play. Fifteen showed up to the first session, but word spread quickly, and the Garfield Senior High School gym was soon full. Some 280 boys and girls have been through the program since it started, with as many as 60 enrolled at any given time. Practices are held twice a week, year-round. Contreras asks for $40 a month to cover the gym rentals. That’s a fraction of what many programs charge, but even so, some families can’t afford it. No one is turned away. “We scrape by and do whatever we can to keep the gym doors open,” he says.

The club participates in basketball tournaments around Southern California about once a month. They don’t have the resources to stay in a hotel or pay for travel, so Contreras and other parents drive the kids to the tournament and back one day and again the next to keep competing. Victories are especially sweet.

The position has its frustrations for Contreras, like when permits are not approved or gym doors are locked. “It would be really easy to walk away and quit,” he says. Then his phone starts buzzing with calls and texts from kids who want to play.