Isaiah Revels, a Holmes High School graduate, hosted a special preseason community basketball event at Holmes High School on Sunday.
“It’s cool that I can do this at a school I graduated from,” Revels said.
Called the Preseason Tip Off Classic, the event brought together eight high school basketball teams from around the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region at Holmes High School in Covington to compete in a set of basketball games with modified rule sets. Organized by Revels’ company, Step Higher Academy, each team was paid for their participation.
“I’ve always been interested in change, bringing people together as far as community and athletes,” Revels said.
People came out in droves to watch the games. The first game started around 2 p.m. with James N. Gamble Montessori School versus Hughes High School, who were neck and neck throughout the first half and tied by halftime before Hughes managed to pull ahead in the second half, finally beating Gamble by ten points in a 47 to 37 final score.
Next, Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, a Cincinnati charter school, and Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School took the court, where Taft decidedly routed the preparatory academy 47 to 19.
The penultimate match was a tense battle between Western Hills High School and Dunbar High School out of Dayton, Ohio. Western Hills maintained a narrow lead in the first half, only to have Dunbar take their lead in the latter parts of the second half. A tense battle for the leaderboard ensued in the game’s final minutes, with Western Hills finally securing a three-point victory, 56 to 53.
The main event — Newport versus Winton Woods — saw a tense exchange in the first half before Newport finally pulled away in the second half with a final score of 66 to 55 in favor of Newport.
Local youth dance teams from around the region also performed during the halftime shows.
“So a few things that bring people together, that’s sports, art and music, and I kind of bridge that gap with my sports program,” Revels said.
Midway through the main event, Revels presented Jerrod Termini, a senior at Holmes High School, with a $500 scholarship. Termini said he hoped to study graphic design at the University of Kentucky.
Revels, who played football and basketball at Holmes before graduating in 2014, saw the event and the scholarship as a way to give back to the community.
“I’ve always been a networker,” Revels said and credits his success in bringing together different schools from throughout Kentucky and Ohio to his predisposition to working with others.
Step Higher Academy, he said, is an offshoot of Step Higher, which his mother, Janelle Hocker, along with Jessica Perkins, founded just over 20 years ago when they took about 40 students from Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati to visit historically Black colleges and universities throughout the country in an effort to inspire aspirations for adult success. Today, Step Higher & Nella’s Place, which operate jointly, administer four group homes for girls in Walnut Hills.
“What Step Higher Academy is geared towards is more so the community athletes,” Revels said.
In addition to scholarships, Step Higher Academy provides various professional development services for athletes looking to go pro, including internships, financial literacy training and other mentoring services. Earlier this year, Step Higher took a group of athletes to Italy, where they competed in an international tournament and engaged in various cultural learning activities.
A lot has changed over the years when it comes to athletics, Revels said.
“When I was growing up, there was no NIL,” Revels said, referring to name, image and likeness policies among college athletes so that they can profit from the use of their name and image on sports paraphernalia, a policy that followed from a group of lawsuits started in the early 2000s.
These days, even if athletes still don’t get paid by schools directly, there are a lot more opportunities for them to make money, especially on social media.
“These kids are able to express themselves more,” Revels said. “See, when I was growing up, it was just go play basketball, go work as hard as you can to try to go to the next level.”
“Social media has changed the trajectory of everything,” he added, pointing to Angel Reese, a women’s basketball player at Louisiana State University, as an example.
“She signed a Reebok deal from playing basketball,” Revels said. ” She has created an image of Bayou Barbie,” Revels said, referring to Reese’s nickname and public image, which she can now use to secure future business deals.
There are some downsides to that state of things, though. Namely, it can open up the athletes to exploitation from people who may not have their best interests at heart.
“What I’ve seen a lot of kids suffer from is the people in their camp are just too controlling,” Revels said. “The people in that camp need to be [about] whoever the kid is first.”
He said he hoped the event would help give each showcased program more resources.
“We’re just putting the funding right back to these high school teams and giving these kids a chance to experience something different than they might not be able to experience when the ball stops bouncing,” Revels said.