The Crumbley legacy: Our children’s keepers through basketball

The Crumbley men use the basketball court as the vehicle to help youth see their worth, hone their skills, and gain confidence. Left, Earnest Crumbley, Jr., Earnest Crumbley Sr., and Kory Crumbley

By Nicole Slaughter Graham, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — If a bystander hangs around the basketball courts at Lake Vista or Coquina Key Parks for long enough, they’ll notice that a black, four-door Ram truck pulls into the parking lot every day. Out of the driver’s side steps, a man, towering well over six feet, usually dressed in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and a pair of basketball shorts.

From the back seat of his truck, he pulls a backpack filled with individual water bottles, a set of orange cones, and a few basketballs.

He walks over to the basketball court, drops the balls and the backpack in the dirt near the goal, and proceeds to set up the cones on the court. As he sets up, two to three — sometimes more — kids in their preteens and teens join him on the court. Most of them walk or ride their bikes.

The man, known as “Mr. C,” to the kids, instructs them to loosen their muscles by shooting hoops while he finishes setting up.

Throughout the hour to hour-and-a-half practice, more neighborhood kids stroll by. They all wave or nod to Mr. C. Some of them walk up to the court and greet him.

Kory Crumbley knows all these kids by name. He remembers where they go to school, whether or not they were struggling with a class or another student, and he asks them how things are going at home.

Most of them share something positive with him: if they ace a test, graduated with honors, kept out of trouble, or got a scholarship to college. Crumbley celebrates them equally, letting them know they’re on his mind, and he’s always hoping they’re doing well.

He similarly talks to the kids working out on the basketball court. He guides them in controlling their emotions on the court and clues them in on how that control translates off the court. As they shoot and dribble and run routes, Crumbley talks to them about the importance of their grades and their opportunity to make something of themselves after high school.

The Sophisticated Gents: Left, Earnest Crumbley, Jr., Earnest Crumbley Sr., and Kory Crumbley

Kory Crumbley is a household name for boys and girls who play basketball on the south side of town. But he didn’t always see himself as a coach.

“It kind of fell in my lap,” he said. “I accidentally started working at the YMCA in Daytona Beach (while in college). I was in Derbyshire in Daytona, working at the Y there in the actual hood, and I started meeting the kids.”

He still didn’t know he could coach, but he did know that he could play. At the time, Crumbley attended Bethune-Cookman on a basketball scholarship. Even though he didn’t know whether the kids would respond to him, he decided to give coaching a try.

Crumbley said that none of the kids at the YMCA knew anything about basketball, but he went to work teaching them anyway. They started in January, and by June, the kids who couldn’t even dribble ended up being the best on the court. Crumbley watched as lives began to change.

“These were the poorest kids in the city, but all of sudden, they had straight As and were the best in the league in sports. So, I thought, well, maybe I kind of know what I’m doing, and I kind of fell in love with it.”

A Family Legacy

Before he considered himself a coach, Kory Crumbley thought his father and brother were the only coaches in the family. Currently, Earnest Crumbley Sr. and Earnest Crumbley, Jr. respectively, are the head coach and assistant coach of the men’s basketball team at St. Petersburg College.

Crumbley, Jr., like his brother, also trains kids two to three days a week when he’s not busy during the SPC basketball season.

But everything started with Crumbley Sr., who nearly 30 years before, was coaching basketball in Jordan Park. Before he ever stepped foot on the SPC campus, he coached more than 500 kids in Jordan Park and Midtown.

“I was the rec coordinator for the housing authority in St. Petersburg,” he recalled. “We did mostly basketball, cheerleading, Boy Scouts, and flag football.”

Crumbley Sr. was tasked with giving the kids of Jordan Park and the surrounding neighborhoods a safe and nurturing environment to come to after school and on the weekends. Many of the kids at that time needed to escape the harsh realities of poverty and hardship, most of which was the result of decades-long systemic racism in St. Petersburg that disenfranchised the city’s Black communities.

“Sometimes, you get what society deems to be the worst kids to coach. Sometimes these kids bring stuff with them,” explained Crumbley Sr. “The problem with that, though, is that these kids all have a chance to do great things, and that’s what you have to see in them rather than what they come from.”

Crumbley Sr. knows what it means to fight such odds, noting that his family was of the poorest in town. His mother never made over $4000 in her lifetime, and his father only reached a sixth-grade education. Still, his nine brothers and sisters graduated high school, and he became a first-generation college graduate. At one point, he too lived in Jordan Park, adding that it was a tight-knit community.

Crumbley Sr. said his parents modeled an unshakeable work ethic and family values despite his family’s trials.  He sought to model the same for his boys.

When they were children, Earnest Jr. and Kory Crumbley came along with him to and from work every day in Jordan Park.

“We didn’t take them and put them in another camp. Wherever I was working, they were with me.”

The boys were 8 and 6 at the time, and when they finished their homework, they played basketball right alongside the other kids. They both grew up to play high school and college basketball, and now, they join their father in nurturing St. Petersburg’s youth through the sport.

Teaching Life Through Basketball

For the Crumbley men, basketball is more than just a sport.

“Basketball is a great tool and a teacher of life,” stated Crumbley Jr.

All three men believe that kids can hone skills necessary off the court through basketball.

“Not all of the kids will grow up to be basketball players,” Crumbley Sr. said. “Some of them will be computer engineers, but the court gives them the space to explore their skills as long as the coach fosters that.”

The Crumbley men use the basketball court as the vehicle to help youth see their worth, hone their skills, and gain confidence. They use the sport to teach the youngsters about life.

“It’s not only what you do when you’re playing; it’s what are you going to do when you’re not playing? What kind of person are you going to be? What kind of impact are you going to have on others?” stated Crumbley, Jr. These are the lessons the coaches try to teach.”

The Crumbley men possess something that many coaches do not, and that’s a genuine love for every child that steps onto their courts to be coached. They all understand the power of an adult figure who genuinely cares.

“You can’t reach a kid unless you care about them and you care about who they are going to become after they’re done scoring points for you,” Crumbley, Jr. finished.

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