Leading by example, through a life of serving others, while looking up toward a defining force that has transformed lives.
Vertical Vision has been producing leaders on and off the court for the past two years, making the difference in the the lives of young men through basketball and their faith in Christ.
When Community Christian assistant coach Larry Taylor first started Vertical Vision, he did it with the thought of establishing a mentorship program, and its evolution during its nascent stages has provided the students participating with a faith-based foundation, moral compass and an opportunity to learn about themselves.
In 2014, one of Larry Taylor’s former teammates at North Port High School, Jeffery Gillette, who like the aforementioned, also went onto play college basketball, played a pivotal role in what would help shape Larry Taylor’s life.
“He (Gillette) got me a job at the Boys and Girls Club, while I was still playing college basketball,” said Larry Taylor. “I loved working with kids, and I already knew that. As I started being a youth development specialist for these kids, I started forming a crazy strong bond with four players, Isaiah Levine, Alexander Charles, Brandon Hill and Woodrow Stewart. And ever since then, I’ve stayed a part of their lives...it’s unbelievable.”
The program has not only helped the participants identify their passion but also motivated them to act on it as well, said Larry Taylor.
Stewart will serve as a marketing intern for Vertical Vision this summer, and will be doing promotions for the program. He will be attending a leadership summit in California for Tony Robbins. Stewart was invited to the event, with his expenses being paid because of his accomplishments, said Larry Taylor.
“He (Larry Taylor) has really mentored me and a lot of the other kids,” said Stewart. “He taught us how to conduct ourselves in a professional manner and about basketball. He’s teaching us how to play the game right. We have a prayer session before we start training
“Vertical Vision stands for always having God first in our lives. He really drills that into us. God first...it goes back to my belief system. It really cemented that belief, God first.”
Brandon Hill, a key component in the Mustangs basketball program, will be going into his junior year at Community Christian, and recently received a scholarship stemming from his passion for playing basketball, said Larry Taylor.
The program has served as a source of inspiration for Hill, who has not only grown as an athlete but as an individual, helping him to become a better player on and off the court.
The program and its experiences have made a huge impact on Hill, and resonate far beyond the gym at Community Christian.
“Faith is really important, Larry showed me that my first year here, how important it was to trust Christ,” said Hill. “How important it is to follow in Christ’s footsteps.”
Alexander Charles will be going into the ninth grade, and has found Larry Taylor’s altruistic nature and unwavering faith to be an example to follow.
“Vertical Vision has shown me that basketball can be more than just a sport,” said Charles. “Christ plays a role in everything. This brought me closer for sure. I’ve seen non-believers come in here and become believers. That’s how you know Christ is here.”
It hasn’t been easy for Isaiah Levine, the son of a single parent, who’s been raised by his father. However, it was Larry Taylor and his father Kurt Taylor, Community Christian’s head basketball coach, that led Levine to Christ.
“Vertical Vision has played a big part in my life,” said Levine, who will be going into the 10th grade. “Everything that they’ve taught me, I’ve used those tools to help me grow. I’m a lot more confident, just believing in what I can do. This is a great foundation. I really enjoy it.”
A little bit of adversity was far from a deterrent for Jaren Almeida, he transferred from North Port to Community Christian, after injuring his leg, and Vertical Vision played a large role in his return to hardwood.
“It was a hard decision, leaving all of my friends, but one of the people that I reached out for was Larry,” said Almeida, who will study to be a physical therapist at Florida SouthWestern State College this fall. He was the recipient of the Vertical Vision scholarship this spring. “I want to give kids the same exact chance that I had, and give them the hope that they’ll be able to go back and play basketball.”
However, it was when Almeida first came to Community Christian during his junior year that he would receive a gift that would make an immediate impact, embracing the Mustang culture.
“He (Larry) gave me a shirt and I thought it was the coolest shirt I ever had,” said Almeida. “Just being around Larry, you pick up his energy, how he carries himself, how he talks to people. You get a sense of what you can accomplish in this world.”
Mustang Ethan Bray, who has been a leader on the court for Community Christian, has also seen the benefits of the program and how it’s influenced his every day life.
“Vertical Vision has helped me so much in getting secondary work in, as opposed to practice, or just my own shoot around,” said Bray. “It’s more time in the gym with my teammates and coaches as well. It’s not just basketball, it’s basketball and faith. Vertical Vision teaches you to keep your eyes pointed up toward the Lord, and once you do that everything will fall in line, for your whole life, not just basketball. What I love about Larry is that he has a heart for kids, community and the Lord all through basketball.”
Community Christian Head Basketball Coach Kurt Taylor recognized the potential in the program when it first began, and is encouraged with what he’s seen over the past two years.
“There’s a lot of common sense missing in our culture today, besides teaching the skills of basketball and trying to give kids a great passion for the game to become as good as they can be, the most important thing is that we try by the Grace of God, to teach them how to live and that’s an important skill...that’s the key, having passion for something.”