Keyon Carter - Mission Trip to West Africa

April 12, 2011
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

April 12, 2011

ODU's Keyon Carter Looking Forward to Meaningful Experience on Mission Trip to West Africa by Brendan O'Hallarn

Basketball has taken Keyon Carter from his home in Riviera Beach, Fla., to Norfolk, and even across the United States, in his five years as a member of the Old Dominion University Monarchs.

Now it's about to take him on an even bigger adventure, and one that Carter says will help put the wins and losses on the basketball court in perspective.

Four weeks after his graduation from ODU, he will join a delegation of eight to 10 members from the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on a journey to Central Africa from June 5-21. Church members, led by their rector, the Rev. Robert Davenport and his wife, Lizzy Allen, are linked there to the Embangweni School for the Deaf, a residential school for 180 students in rural Malawi.

"I'm excited. It's a chance for a new, grand life experience," said Carter, who has never been to Africa.

On a sabbatical in Africa last year, Davenport and Allen visited the school because of her expertise in deaf culture and their cross-cultural interests. From that trip, the Church of the Good Shepherd is now developing relationships with St. Matthew's Anglican Church in Embangweni, as well as the School for the Deaf.

"If you're deaf in the rural part of that country, you're pretty low on the pecking order of life," Davenport said. Malari is rampant in Malawi, as in most equatorial countries, and pre- and post-natal care is not readily accessible. Globally, deafness is often caused by some sort of distress in pregnancy or in early life.

But despite the challenging conditions, Davenport couldn't believe the joy he saw on the faces of many of the boys and girls at the school when they did even simple things, like run around on the dilapidated basketball court, taking turns tossing a "ball" made of rolled up plastic bags through the hoop.

Davenport also noticed that the hoop, like the ball and court, was in sad shape.

"The hoop was hanging straight down, and they were using balled-up plastic bags for a ball. Yet there were still all these kids playing," he said.

Through negotiations, Davenport got the village welder to build two basketball hoops, and the village carpenter to cut out and paint backboards. Today the kids play on a smaller version of a regulation basketball court, albeit on dirt instead of pavement.

And now, the school needs a basketball coach. Enter Keyon Carter.

"I've known for a long time that I'm just a lousy basketball coach," Davenport, a former Division III college football player, said with a smile. "I ran into (ODU Athletic Director) Wood Selig and mentioned what we were doing."

Selig and his wife simultaneously mentioned Carter as a perfect candidate for such an outreach. Carter was the first student-athlete Selig met when the new AD joined Old Dominion last year, and his family, particularly son Lex, has connected with the 6-foot-8 senior sport management major.

"I think that Wood Selig has a nose like a bird dog. He knows how to make the right connections, and Keyon is perfect for this trip. We're thrilled he's going," Davenport said.

Carter, who has done a number of things in the past few weeks in preparation for the adventure, including getting malaria shots, couldn't be more excited.

"My whole life has always been about basketball, and it's carried me this far," he said. "Basketball is the reason I was introduced to Mr. Davenport, but I look at myself as an individual with a lot more potential. Hopefully, experiences like this will help me on my way."

The ODU men's basketball season ended in heartbreaking fashion last month following an at-the-buzzer shot by eventual NCAA tournament finalist Butler. It's been a few weeks now, and Carter is still disappointed. However, the opportunity to be of service on the upcoming mission can offer some badly needed reminders of what's important, he said.

"This trip will put a lot of things in perspective. I know how lucky we are in America, but I'm looking forward to an eye-opening experience, interacting with people living there."

A few other young people will be on the trip to act as Carter's assistant coaches. One of them knows sign language, as does Allen, an interpreter who teaches a course in sign language at ODU.

Students at the school are fascinated with American culture, Davenport said, and he expects the local delegation's visit will add to ODU's growing basketball fan base. It is also hoped that Carter's presence will provide the Embangweni School for the Deaf something else - a ringer.

"One of my goals with all of this is I want the team from the deaf school to beat the hearing school at basketball," Davenport said.

This article was posted on: April 11, 2011

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