No matter where Rodney Dietrich’s life takes him, basketball is his lingua franca.
Whether it’s strengthening bonds with her older brother, reaching out to at-risk youth populations, or building relationships in her role as an integrated services specialist and aging social worker on the Chatham County Council on Aging, the Buffalo, New York native captures every The photo has been focused on purpose.
Given Dietrich’s status in the “50 and over” category — those who qualify for the Chatham County Senior Athletic Conference — he was quickly approached by interested parties when he began working on the committee last January.
Liz Lahti, manager of the East Chatham Senior Center and Olympic coordinator, set a record 262 athletes in 2022.
“When I first started, of course Liz was like, ‘Why don’t you play the senior games?'” recalls Dietrich. “I asked what they had, and she said they had different categories. I said I like basketball, so I said I’d sign up for basketball.”
While Dietrich never played on an organized team, he can often be found shooting in the lanes of Buffalo alongside his older brother. The Harlem Globetrotters were regulars in the area, giving them the chance to meet people other than the hapless General Washington. From 1970 to 1978, the Buffalo Braves used the city as home to an NBA team that would eventually become the modern-day Los Angeles Clippers.
“I’m always fascinated by the way they handle basketball,” Dietrich said of the Globetrotters. “I could never do something like that!”
Hours of shooting in the driveway — though more misses than there should be for young Dietrich — were rewarded in his first experience at the Chatham County Senior Games. return. He won a gold medal in his age group in the basketball shooting competition, which follows a “around the world” format in different areas of the court.
“It’s all over the world, but I’ll tell you I didn’t shoot it very well,” Dietrich said.
On that day, it didn’t matter. Veteran Dietrich is busy building relationships — something that has served him well throughout his career. Take at least one extended trip to check out the competition.
“The whole thing is to do it with other people,” Dietrich assures. “There was a lady who was doing it with me as well, and her family drove all the way from Virginia to support her. They didn’t have any sign of her. I love the unity of the race, but my brother, he was in the race. I grew up Just respect my brother; he’s a good man.”
Still, the young Dietrich was never going to steal a one-on-one win from his brother, and he was the pride of Buffalo’s Kensington High School. Every time there was a one-on-one fight and the basketball flew over the back of the net, Dietrich would be the one to catch it.
“Every time I played against him, he never missed a shot,” Dietrich said of his younger brother. “People, they do stuff, and it reminds them of the things they did, the good times they had. Whenever I watch basketball or play basketball, it reminds me of my time with my brother.”
When Dietrich was growing up in Buffalo in the ’60s and ’70s, the city was going through a backdrop of change. The son of a black father and a white mother, Dietrich’s class was one of the first to enter comprehensive school. His father, a bus driver in the city, happened to be the driver for his son’s first day of integration.
It was certainly different for the multiracial Dietrich, but his family still encountered some resistance to integrating into the school.
“My father is black, but my mother is white,” Dietrich said. “So it’s a little bit different for me, but in their family, I suffer from the same things they have to go through. It’s tough at times, but people stay together and families stay together.”
Before joining the Council on Aging, Dietrich served as a facility director for at-risk youth. He is a unicorn in this particular field.
Turnover is high and many cannot cope with the aggressiveness of young people who are just one step away from the prison system. But Dietrich, despite being punched and kicked in the line of duty, became an integral part of the operation and remained there for 12 years.
In fact, basketball became the primary tool of communication. Dietrich oversees so-called Level 3 facilities, meaning the next escalation involves holding in detention centres.
Kids run out of time and options quickly. Some were expelled from seven different schools and brought back report cards for all failing grades.
Through basketball, Dietrich intervened and turned failing students into A/B honor roll recipients. They will then be allowed to play for their junior high and high school basketball teams.
“I think I get more out of them than a lot of therapists,” Dietrich says. “In therapy, they’re just sitting across from someone. But when you’re doing something like one-on-one basketball or just traveling the world, you’re in the game and their minds are more at ease. They’re more open to telling you things. “
Dietrich interacts with the motley crowd, and it’s a ball and a basket that, combined with on-court antics, defuse a lot of the situation.
“You talk about travel, I once had a kid who would run all over the field,” recalls Dietrich. “He’d just take the ball and start running. Then, he’d go shoot it and think that’s it. None of the kids said anything to him, they just laughed.”
After Dietrich was discharged from the military, he had to spend some time in a veterans hospital. His brother came and they went outside to the basketball court.
“We’re out, we’re still shooting, playing basketball,” Dietrich said.
Years later, the elder Dietrich never missed a shot.