Something old and something new at York

By Mitch Abramson

As a 34-year-old freshman, Straker is supposed to be the “new kid on the block,” the player expected to carry the team's luggage around. As a hulking, somber figure who bears a passing resemblance to former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, Straker is a somewhat reluctant freshman.”It's been challenging,” he said. “It's going well, but you have to get used to and make adjustments to the different egos and attitudes of the team. Sometimes the other players don't want to listen to the coaches. I try and talk to them and make them understand the situation. Some of them listen and some of them don't.”Straker, a role player, is originally from St. Michaels, Barbados and played on his country's national team and for a continuing education school following high school. He took a job working as a butcher immediately after high school; the money was so good that he never gave college a second thought. Eight years later when the company he worked for went out of business, he decided to go back to school. He picked York College, enrolling in its Health and Physical Education program because eventually, he wants to return home to teach sports to kids.”I realized that the coaches didn't have a lot of experience in what they were teaching,” he said. “Most of them had never played the game themselves and were teaching kids stuff they had learned from reading manuals and text books. I want to be able to draw on my experiences.”Complicating his decision to leave home was his mother's physical condition. Two years ago, she suffered a stroke resulting from blood clots in her legs. Straker was tempted to remain with his family, but was convinced he could make a better life for them if he returned with a degree.He ran into a road block when he realized that he needed a high school diploma to enroll in college. Straker never finished high school, but he studied hard to earn his GED, which he did after a few frightful months. “That was the most challenging part because I was stressing about not being able to attend York,” he said.Straker, who is single and lives in Brooklyn with his sister and a nephew, didn't waste any time jumping into his new surroundings. He joined the soccer team last semester and plans on playing on the volleyball team and soaking up as much American coaching as possible.”It's interesting, having a player like Anderson,” said York head coach Ron St. John, in his 17th year at the school. “It has its ups and downs. He has had to make a lot of adjustments. As a truly grown man, I can't push him as much as I would some of the other players. Every year I get a player who is older and they have a problem taking directions. The other problem is that whenever we go out on a road trip, the older players always want to get a cocktail. I have to tell them that if they do that, they'll be off the team.”During St. John's first year as an assistant on the varsity back in 1979, St. John, then 36, had a player who was around the same age as him who refused to follow directions. Fearing a mutiny might occur, he released the player from the team and learned from the experience. This season he has two players in their 30's: Straker and Chris Simpson, a 30-year-old 6-foot-6 center who is also a freshman.As the younger of the two, Straker has worked with Simpson on controlling his emotions. Now that Simpson is eating into his playing time, Straker – out of self-preservation – might need to back off. When Straker failed to rise during a timeout against Brooklyn College, St. John opted to start Simpson the following game against Mount St. Mary's on January 17, and the team won three games in a row.Simpson, who spent a decade working for the Board of Education as a school aid and eventually wants to become a teacher, is oblivious to the difference in ages. The next oldest player on the team is 25.”We're all playing to win,” he said. “It's a bit unusual (to have a player Straker's age), but because he played for his country's national team, he brings all of his experiences to the team,” said York captain Kwesi Liverpool. “He helps me talk to some of the other players. You have to talk to every player in a different manner, and he knows how to get through to them.”Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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