Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Building Camaraderie through Hoops
Houston VA Medical Center Veterans took to the court to showcase skills, compete for bragging rights, and enjoy camaraderie with one another during the 2019 Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Fall Basketball Tournament.
“It was good competition,” said Army Veteran Mark Copeland, 51. “After two games, people were kind of exhausted.”
Held at Emancipation Park, the three-on-three, single-elimination competition featured six teams vying for trophies, which were awarded to the top three teams.
“We took third place,” said Copeland. “It was great … everything. The community park itself and the amazing facility, it was like, wow! What a wonderful place for Vets and the community to come together. From start to finish, it was a Saturday well spent.”
The tournament was started by Emily Winfield, LCSW, team leader at the Travis Street Midtown apartment complex, where 200 Veterans with Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Assistance Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers live with another 150 Vets who self-pay.
“The Vets at Travis Street like to participate in a lot of activities,” said Winfield. “I was talking to them and one in particular told me he had game. He said he would love to have basketball available to the Veterans. So, I asked him if I started a tournament would he play. He assured me he would and that is how the idea got started.”
Tournaments are scheduled twice per year, in the spring and fall. This was the third one. Although started for HUD-VASH Veterans, it is open to all Vets who would like to participate.
“It was challenging to get that first tournament started,” said Winfield. “It’s easier and flowing better now, and there are more people, so I’m happy.”
Army Veteran Joey Stewart, 59, played in the March 2018 tournament and took home a third-place trophy that now sits on the desk of his Travis Street apartment. He didn’t take home a trophy this year, but still enjoyed himself.
“This tournament is a great way for Veterans to socialize and build togetherness,” he said.
Several Vets have called Winfield to say how much fun they had playing basketball. Many already are getting teams together for the next one to be held in March.
Winfield lights up when talking about the Veterans she serves. Basketball is a fun activity, but her real mission is helping Vets find stable housing.
“We’re social workers,” she said. “When they are successful, it feels like we did our job—that we’ve been successful. If they are not ready to live independently without any assistance, we continue trying to help them. Sometimes all people need is a little care and concern to get them to where they need to be.”