Thomas Jefferson baseball and bowling coach Joseph Townsend is fighting again.
It’s fine, nothing the Brooklyn, New York, native isn’t used to.
Townsend’s first fight as a teenager required him to make a choice: succumb to the life of drugs and violence that surrounded his borough after his mother died, or take the hand of Steve Goldman, Townsend’s high school baseball coach, and pursue a successful life his mother would have wanted.
After choosing a life filled with baseball, bowling and service, Townsend is faced with another choice, another opportunity to fight after his Jefferson bowling team was invited to compete in the 2017 U.S. High School Bowling National Championship in Nashville, Tennessee, June 24-25.
The struggle Jefferson faces is a financial one. Townsend and the Raiders must raise approximately $9,200 for tournament and travel expenses by May 1 to hold their place in the tournament. Thanks to a $5,000 donation from Mike Martin, owner of Secoma Lanes, however, Jefferson is halfway there, which leaves Townsend and his Raiders to fight for the rest.
“This was all my girls,” Townsend said. “They’re far more intuitive than I am. They came to me and said: ‘Coach, what do you think about nationals?’ I didn’t know if they were ready for that. Maybe next year I thought, but after the research they did, then the homework I did, I thought why not us?”
A SPORTS SAVIOR
Townsend grew up in the Canarsie neighborhood in Brooklyn. At the time, it was easier to find vices and trouble than it was to avoid them.
Luckily, Townsend lived in a loving household with his father, Joe Sr., and mother, Betty Nixon-Townsend.
A supportive home life kept Townsend focused on school, sports and staying out of trouble.
That foundation was tested when Betty Townsend passed away unexpectedly just as her son was entering his sophomore year in high school.
Townsend said he didn’t know how to handle the grief.
“My mom passed so early,” Townsend said through tears. “I didn’t know how to handle that, how to deal with it. It literally felt like she was taken away from me.”
Townsend slowly began to change – withdrawing from everything he once enjoyed.
The one person who refused to allow that was Goldman, South Shore High School’s varsity baseball coach.
Goldman, who live in the upper-middle class section of Canarsie, crossed the dangerous invisible boundary regularly to drag Townsend to baseball practice. Some days he went peacefully, while other days Townsend went kicking and screaming.
But Townsend said, had Goldman not risked his own safety to get him to practice, he’s sure he would have gone down a path of crime.
“If it wasn’t for coach Goldman coming into the projects to tell me he wasn’t letting me quit, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” a tearful Townsend said.
Goldman didn’t know it at the time, but his determination saved Townsend from that life.
Because of Goldman’s dedication, Townsend vowed to fight, too.
He vowed to fight for children who are as lost as he was when his mother died.
“Everything that baseball’s given me, everything coaches have given me, I said that at some point in my life I was going to give this all back,” Townsend said.
Townsend has kept his word.
He doesn’t just work with students. He works with children facing worse circumstances than he ever did in Brooklyn.
Townsend works the graveyard shift as a corrections officer at the King County Juvenile Detention Center in Seattle.
Eight years ago he took over as Jefferson’s baseball coach.
He then became coach of the bowling program when it was sanctioned as a competitive sport two years ago.
Whether Townsend is at juvenile hall while everyone else is asleep, or he’s instructing on how to perform a perfect axis tilt at Secoma Lanes, his goal remains the same.
“It’s because of what people gave me,” Townsend said. “They didn’t quit on me when I wanted to quit on me, and they didn’t have to. That’s why I make the time to give back to all these kids.”
Baseball season has arrived, and Townsend’s focus has shifted, but he just can’t shake the incredible run Jefferson bowling had in 2016.
The Raiders went a perfect 15-0 in the regular season. They blew right through the league and district tournaments and straight into state championship contention, where they finished the season in third place.
Townsend was ready to ride off into the sunset and turn his attention to his first love – Jefferson baseball, but his bowling team said not so fast.
Players informed Townsend that because of their top three finish at state, they qualified to compete in the national championship tournament, and they wanted to go.
“I didn’t even know we qualified until I went online and spoke to the tournament director,” Townsend said. “It’s incredible. We’re the only team on the West Coast that’s going. To represent this state, this region, is a big thing.”
Townsend managed the honor one step at a time.
First, he made sure his entire team could make the trip. Townsend has bowlers involved in spring sports, while others are preparing for college, but they all agreed to put other endeavors on hold if it meant competing for a national championship.
Then Townsend confronted the toughest challenge of all — money.
Luckily, growing up in a rough area taught Townsend the importance of budgeting at a young age.
Townsend sat down and figured out how much a cross-country trip like this costs. With all things considered, such as flights, hotels, food, entertainment and tournament fees, it would cost Jefferson $9,200 to make the trip.
Townsend knew he simply couldn’t request all seven of his bowlers go home and ask their parents for the money. He knew the school district couldn’t afford it, either.
Once again, Townsend was in for another fight.
— Part II of the Jefferson girls bowling story will appear in the April 7 Mirror edition.