(Photo courtesy of ChaunceyBillups.org)
By: Samantha Jewell, Humans Editor
What brought you to Regis University?
Oh boy, that is a long story. I went to Adams State University on a basketball scholarship and to Denver on a weekend. Well, first of all, my buddies told me that Denver was right up the highway and I am thinking that it was about forty miles away. And I will tell you exactly how far away it is, 226 miles up the highway. So I said, “oh, man! 226 miles and I finally got to Denver and it was worth it! It was worth the wait. It was beautiful and I fell in love with it. The quality of life here is so much different than it is in the Midwest. I came here and had a good time! Every weekend that I could I would come up to Denver. I would play on a Saturday night and in Alamosa, there is not a lot to do so I just remember that after a basketball game we would play and finish the game at a quarter to 9 and around 9:15 we would be in Denver. The quality of life in Denver just got me.
So I was working as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Nebraska simply because when I graduated I went to work here in Denver and finally I became a head basketball coach and Manuel High School and we were successful. We won the State Championship and so I was asked to come to The University of Nebraska as an assistant coach and went and coached there but I always wanted to get back to Denver. When this job came open I applied for it in the Spring of 1977. I had the intentions that I was going to be here and move on and be a head basketball coach at the D1 level and the longer I stayed the more I enjoyed and loved it here at Regis not only being in Denver but here at Regis. Yes, I did have opportunities to leave and take head coaching jobs but I did not want to stay in the places where those jobs were. I did not want to live there and bring my family up in those environments. So I passed on that. You look up and all of these years have passed. I retired from basketball and I think this is my 42 year at Regis University. So that is the short of it.
Can you tell us about the Porter – Billups Leadership Academy?
I started the Academy in 1996. My daughter, Nacasa Granda and I it was the three of us. The two of them did the teaching and there were 22 kids and I did the grunt work. Naturally, I was in charge of discipline, driving the bus, picking the kids up, dropping them off at campus. One of the misnomers of the Academy is that people think that is has something to do with basketball because of Chauncey and myself. It has nothing to do with sports it is all academics. I started the academy simply because some of my basketball players were missing some of the life skills. I am talking about the skills that are not taught in the classroom. I am talking about how to apply for a job, how to eat a 5/6 course meal, respect for women. You teach that and now in these days and times it is really a hot topic and everyone should familiarize themselves with these topics, especially men. Just a lot of small things about how to live your life as a man.
Our academy is coed so what we do is we find little kids when they are 7/8 years old who have leadership skills and we get the question, “how do you know that they have leadership skills?” All you have to do is go into a classroom and kids gravitate to them. Even at 5 years old, kids gravitate to the leaders. What you have to do is get your hands on the leaders and take those traits and skills and turn them into something positive and lead in a positive direction. We started
22 years ago and a guy gave me $7,500 to start with and now it takes about a million dollars a year. It has grown from 22 kids to 190. 27 kids have graduated from Regis University and 14 kids who are currently attending Regis University.
This has been a labor of love because we have had to raise all of the funds for it to be successful and to pay for all of these kids. We started with 3 people on staff now we have only one full-time person on staff, Lisa Hamilton and this is the first year that she is full time. It has been a long road but it is getting better and better. There are 26 people that are on staff that works in the summer. To see our kids graduate and become who they make every day worth it. If they are successful and do what they are supposed to, graduate and apply to Regis then we raise the money to pay for their college education. I just love it. By this time next year, we will have two doctors. Some of the kids don’t come to Regis, we have one graduating this spring graduating from Columbia, Georgetown they go all over but we just pay for the ones that go to Regis. It is very diverse, we are probably about 58% women and the rest male. When you say PBLA and you say, Lonnie and Chauncey, you think it is going to be primarily male but that isn’t the case. You can change lives easier when you get kids at a tender age.
I would like to have them when they graduate from kindergarten and keep them for half a day. Getting a kid on a college campus and for them to have that experience. Our kids come here and they see the other kids and they are not intimidated. Because they have been over here since they were 7 and 8 years old. They know where everything is and for some of them, it is a different experience. On the whole, it is very positive. That goes back to my basketball players, it is hard to change kids, let’s say a junior college transfer is 20/21 years old, it is hard to change them. Let’s say while talking to someone, looking them in the eye, teaching them the discipline that they should have a firm handshake, all of those things are what we teach, plus we go through a curriculum a rigorous three-week curriculum. There is a life skills class and a leadership class as well because first and foremost that is the most important and paramount. I am doing what I am supposed to do. I am doing what is important someone did it for me so I am paying it forward. If everyone could do that for their fellow man our world would be in a much better place. I assure you that. When they graduate we just ask them one thing: when they get out in life and they become successful that they do what we did for them for someone else.
What is your favorite Jesuit value?
Men and Women in Service to Others, without a doubt. Someone asked me in a, “how do you want to be remembered?” The accolades and the trophies when it is all said and done none of that matters. Who was the man? What kind of person was he? Who was he? All of that stuff you cannot take it with you and even now it is in a closet somewhere. Point specific the person said, “when your day has come and gone, how do you want to be remembered?” I answered, “I want people to say that he was a good man and that he tried to help his fellow man.”
Is there anything else that you would like the Regis community to know?
I want to invite the Regis community to just do a drive by and come and visit the campus when these kids are here during the summer and it will bring you tears of joy when you see all of them together. I think that would be my biggest point. Talk to them and have lunch with them and see who they are and where they are from and why they are here on the Regis Camus. This is a great learning experience for them. Like I mentioned it is very diverse and like for me I had never stepped foot on a college campus until I went to college on my first day when I registered and the exposure is what these kids need. I was pushed by a gentleman named Dr. Tom Reynolds, he said, “Coach have you ever thought about doing an academic camp?” (I had done basketball camps) I said, “I had always wanted to be a principal if I wasn’t a coach.” I am just so happy that I ended up at Regis, they gave me an opportunity to take an idea 20 some years ago and run with it. There are not many colleges that will let you do that especially with using academia and athletics because they are usually clashing. It has never been like that for me here. Faculty and staff have always helped us. That is why 94% of my basketball players have graduated and that is what I push for. That is who I am. I thought God had sent me here to win a lot of basketball games and little did I know that he had another plan for me.
If you would like to learn more about what Coach Lonnie Porter is doing with the Porter Billups Leadership Academy visit: https://www.porter-billups.org/ and http://www.regis.edu/About-Regis-University/Centers-and-Institutes/Porter-Billups-Leadership-Academy.aspx