Neighborhood House Charter School’s hoop teams are into ‘making some noise’

Senior co-captains Alicia Browder, left, and Danielle Cox lead the NHCS girls’ basketball team.

Tavon Rhodes, 17, leads his division in points scored with 30.1 per game.

Tavon Rhodes and Alicia Browder of the Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS) in Dorchester have spent this basketball season putting up big numbers on the scoreboard. 

Rhodes, a small forward on the boys’ team, and Browder, a power forward on the girls’ team, are senior captains who happen to be leading the state in scoring for their division, with Rhodes averaging 30.1 points per game and Browder averaging 18.4. 

“It’s putting a target on my back, more pressure throughout the game,” said the 17-year-old Rhodes. “Me being the number one scorer is pretty cool, but I’d rather just win the game and worry about my team. I’d rather have my teammates score 30 points than me.”

This humble attitude is consistent among all athletes and coaches at the NHCS. Browder, likewise, cares more about her team’s success than her statistics.

“It is harder because coming into the game, [the other team] knows I’m the top scorer. So, they try to double-team me. They see me in the paint, and they try to stop me from scoring at all costs. It’s harder, but it has opened up opportunities for my teammates to score as well.”

The tuition-free charter school has not been especially known for its sports program, but rather it is seen as a solid alternative to traditional district schools. NHCS opened in 1995, but the athletic program did not take off until Scott Urban, now 32, was hired as the athletic director in 2018. Since then, the school has expanded beyond 8th grade and is now a K1-12 grade institution. 

“I interviewed six years ago for the PE position and didn’t know that I was going to be the athletic director as well,” said Urban. “We were looking to build something, and I was the guy they chose, and I fell in love with it.” 

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Scott Urban; Jen Green/NHCS photo

During his time at NHCS, Urban has grown the athletic department from the ground up. In their first few seasons, the basketball teams, currently managed by senior Sam Cardichon, rarely won games. This season, both teams have won spots in the Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization (MCSAO) playoffs. 

Urban credits the success of the basketball program to the passionate players and dedicated coaches, pointing to contributors like Kathy Walker, the 8th-grade transitional dean who also is the head coach of the boys’ varsity team. 

“Coach Kat is the most thorough coach I have ever met; she goes above and beyond,” the athletic director explained. “We don’t have a gym or facilities on site so that means we are scrounging for space. I have to go out and get permits, whether it be at the Dorchester Y or the Kroc Center. They don’t come until 7 p.m., so Coach Kat stays here from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every night. She is putting her heart and soul into this program.” 

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Tavon Rhodes with his coach Kathy Walker. Jen Green photo/HNCS

This season marks Walker’s third as head coach following five seasons as assistant coach.​ “It’s been challenging because this school isn’t noticed for winning,” Walker said in an interview with the Reporter. “Once the transition in coaching happened, a lot of things opened up. The boys are receptive to new coaching, new ideas. We’re just making a lot of noise and I want them, as well as the girls, to be celebrated because nobody is talking about charter sports.” 

She doesn’t just work with the boys’ team. The basketball program at NHCS, she says, is like one big family. Not only do the teams support each other at their games, but they practice together as well. 

“Sometimes we’ll go to our drills, and we’ll get mixed up, girls and boys, so we all just feel connected and have chemistry, too,” said Rhodes, a Dorchester native. “Sometimes in practice, we’ll scrimmage against the girls and compete hard.” 

Danielle Cox, the senior co-captain of the girls’ team, enjoys these combined practices and appreciates getting to work with her team’s head coach, Charlene Fernandes as well as the boys’ coaches.

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Karin Richardson, a sophomore, with Head Coach Charlene Fernandes. Jen Green/NHCS photo

“I just feel like we’re all very good, coachable people with good coaches. Not everybody is willing to be coached and they’re good coaches who are willing to put in the time and the effort,” said Cox who is also in the running to be the school’s valedictorian. 

Sophomore point guard Karin Richardson values Fernandes’s dedication to the girls’ program. Without her, Richardson said, her love for basketball may never have come alive.

“At first, I didn’t really take basketball seriously,” she said. “When Coach Charlene told me that being a point guard is a big position, I started taking it seriously and started to take opportunities on the court to show my teammates that I can be a perfect point guard for them.”

Both Walker and Fernandes have similar coaching styles and are recognized for their loud voices on the court. “Coach Kat wants the best in us,” explained the 17-year-old Browder, who also plays volleyball and softball. “When she’s yelling, it may not sound like that, but if you actually listen to what she’s saying, you can tell that it’s coming from the heart and that she truly means what she says.”

Fernandes, whom the players describe as the louder of the two coaches, doesn’t just care about her players while they are on the court, but in all aspects of their lives.

“She is a mom, but she’s also a mom to us. She brings us to practice and then brings us home if we need a ride,” said Cox. “She’s very involved. It’s not always just about sports with her.  If we need to talk to her, she’s always there. Just give her a call, text her, and she’ll answer. It doesn’t matter what time it is.” 

Even though the players have lives beyond the gym, Rhodes’s unique passion for basketball is a large part of his identity. “Usually before and after practice I go to shootaround. I like to think outside the box and there’s not always going to be a practice where you do so much of that stuff. It’s more conditioning sometimes, so I just want to make sure that when I play games and step on the court I’ll be prepared.”

Having missed his freshman season due to Covid restrictions, Rhodes has been on the basketball team since Walker transitioned to the position of head coach. In just three seasons he has scored more than 1,000 points and leads Massachusetts in points per game.

“I think over these three years at the school, I mentally got stronger, which is making my game physically stronger on the court,” said Rhodes. “I just like to prove people and teams wrong.” 

Rhodes and his classmates all express an interest in continuing their academic and athletic careers in college – and their coaches and the athletic director plan to help them achieve these aspirations.

“We shouldn’t only be talking about our program within the community of Dorchester,” said Walker. “Everyone should know that this smaller school in Dorchester is making some noise.”

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