After two-and-a-half years of on-and-off COVID-19 lockdowns, volunteers flooded the San Quentin (SQ) Lower Yard in late August to play sports with the incarcerated in a day filled with emotion, competition, and fun.
Warden Ronald Broomfield threw out the first pitch for the SQ A’s, who beat the visiting San Francisco Mission team by a score of 15–3. On another part of the yard, the SQ Warriors faced the Prison Sports Ministry’s “Green Team” for the first time since their absence starting in 2019 with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Warriors won, 81–79.
The official sports season actually restarted the previous Saturday, Aug. 13, but only a fraction of the usual volunteers showed up. An early end to a COVID-19 lockdown — expected to continue for another week — caught many volunteers off guard. No one was scheduled to play baseball and relatively few tennis players came in from the community.
On that Saturday, the Prison Sports Ministry’s “Bittermen” basketball team, a group of older guys who usually play the 40-and-over SQ Kings team, put together a last minute rooster to play the SQ Warriors, but not surprisingly lost by nearly 20 points to the younger team.
San Quentin Warriors Basketball
On Saturday, Aug. 20, the Ministry’s Green Team returned to play the SQ Warriors. The Ministry’s Green Team featured two former pro-players — NBA D-Leaguer Evan “The Plumber” Fjelds and former overseas pro-baller Ted Hahs.
Meanwhile, the SQ Warriors were not at full strength given everyone in West Block, Head Coach Jeremiah “JB” Brown, missed the game due to another viral quarantine.
Nonetheless, the game was a spirited battle that everyone enjoyed.
“I think it’s good to get back; there is so much fellowship here,” said Bill Epling, a sponsor of the Green Team, who is known for recruiting former pro and college players to battle the SQ Warriors. “I like the competition too.”
Many of the veteran SQ Warriors players who the Green Team was used to playing had paroled during the pandemic. With talented new recruits to fill those shoes, the Green Team played against what, some may contend, could be the best SQ Warriors team in a decade.
“I don’t think this the best team. I think they are the most disciplined,” said SQ Warriors Assistant Coach Jason Eurich, who coached the game. “The new guys dialed in to make the team.”
In the first quarter, the Green Team was led by the 6-foot-9 Hahs. They went beast mode in the paint and were up 19–9.
But the SQ Warriors’ Ricky Hale, 39, who played junior college ball at Merritt College in Oakland, arrived just in time from a family visit to give his team a strong presence in the paint against the Hahs. Hale helped his team to rally back to within three points at the half, 28-25.
“I knew it would be a challenge playing against guys 6’7”, 6’9” when I’m 6’3”, but it was a challenge we overcame,” Hale said. “Speed was a weapon for us.”
At halftime, the SQ Warriors formed a circle mid-court around Epling and expressed their condolences for loss of his 90-year old mother on the previous weekend.
“Bill has been there for us over the years, with support letters, bringing teams in, and helping us process our grief during half court circles,” said Brian Asey, GM of the SQ Basketball Program. “We wanted to lift him up like he has done for us over the years.”
The SQ Warriors dominated the third quarter, scoring 38 points to the Green Team’s 26, opening up a 63–54 lead over the visitors.
New arrival Keyshawn “Steez” Strickland of the SQ Warriors led all scorers with 21 points and had the highlight of the game with a steal punctuated by a one-handed dunk.
“This was great,” Strickland said. “It all came together when we started shutting them down.” The 24-year-old said he played for Matomas High School.
Fjeld, the former D-Leaguer, only scored nine points. “I haven’t played since 2019,” Fjeld said. “Their defensive was impressive.”
The game came down to the wire in the fourth quarter. Don Smith, one of the Green Team’s sponsors, hit a short-range shot that ignited the crowd and his team. Smith is an OG over sixty and only 5-foot-6 at best, but he still has plenty of energy for the game and love for the SQ ballers he’s been visiting over the decades.
The SQ Warriors lead was cut to five when Fjeld nailed a three. Another attempt with 32 seconds left on the clock missed, leaving the score at 79– 74. From there, the home team was able to close out the game from the free-throw line.
Dontaye “Twin” Harris and Delvon Adams scored 13 points each with Hale and new recruit Derrell “Sadiq” Davis adding 11 each.
“It’s a new culture,” Harris said. “All we gonna do is win.”
Hahs led the Green Team with 18 points followed by first-time visitor Jai Hundal with 17.
“It’s humbling to see the community here,” Hundal said. “Everyone is so friendly and welcoming. It was a good surprise and it gives me perspective about my day-to-day life.”
Epling, who hates losing, was already scheming how to recruit more firepower for his team.
“Barbosa can play now that he’s a coach for Golden State, and maybe we can get Zaza Pachulia in here,” Epling said, referring to the former NBA players. “It will be interesting to see when we have a full roster.”
San Quentin A’s Baseball
Back at the baseball diamond, it was a sentimental game for SQ A’s short-stop Branden Riddle-Terrell, who was scheduled to parole Sept. 9. He threw the second pitch to start the game, after Warden Broomfield’s honorary first, and Riddle-Terrell went on to pitch the next five innings.
“Baseball has been a key element in my growth,” Riddle-Terrell said. “It was special having the Warden come down and root for us. He was a part of the team. He naturally meshed with us.”
Riddle-Terrell has been instrumental to the baseball program, including making sure the outfield was watered and the infield maintained.
The baseball game was close until the 5th inning when the Mission’s 3–2 lead began to evaporate. SQ A’s Carrington “Cee” Russelle iced the game with a grand slam in the 8th inning.
“This game meant a lot,” Russelle said. “I felt nervous from the excitement of seeing a team finally come down the hill. After a historic 38–2 season in 2019, we were looking forward to this day and I got my first grand slam — one of the things that I wanted to accomplish.”