It’s been five years since Ryan Rogers last lived full-time in his family’s two-bedroom trailer in Auburn, but memories of the lawlessness in that neighborhood motivate him to this day.
His desire to help those who grew up like him is why, in addition to his school work and basketball practice and games, he works with at-risk youth 20 hours a week in Olympia.
“I want to work with people who want help,” the 23-year-old said.
What better person to be working with people who have, as Rogers put it, “my type of life”, which is why he switched to a major in social work after a semester of business at Saint Martin’s University when he arrived two years ago.
The 6-foot-4 senior forward for the Saints is interning with Olympia Community Youth Services’ Haven House, a 24-hour co-educational crisis residential shelter for youth ages 12-17. He hopes for a career in high school counseling if professional basketball overseas doesn’t pan out.
Program director Brian Hosford said Rogers is a favorite of the kids at Haven House and is somewhat of a “celebrity.” Hosford praises Rogers’ heart-felt interest in working with at-risk teens.
Rogers even set aside game tickets so those at-risk teens he works with so they could come watch him and his Saint Martin’s teammates beat George Fox, 82-69, on Nov. 26.
“Pretty much from the get-go, he was able to talk to them at their level,” Hosford said. “He can generate trusting relationships, which is very hard to do with this population.”
Rogers was never part of the wrong crowd growing up. He was surrounded by it.
His parents shielded him as best they could from the negative influences and trouble that frequented their neighborhood; meth and heroin needles littered the streets, junkies and drunks slept for days and went out to the bars at night.
Money was tight for his parents, Mark and Johnna, and their son learned early what struggle was.
“My parents used to pawn everything I had,” Rogers said. “I was a kid — I didn’t understand what pawning was.”
Basketball became more than a game; it was an outlet and escape from his surroundings.
The Rogers’ home sits across the street from the Auburn Boys & Girls Club where Ryan made it a second home. Johnna Rogers still remembers her son playing basketball at the Club at every opportunity; only darkness brought him home.
“Just five more minutes, mom,” Johnna Rogers recalled, seeking a few more shots, “just five more minutes.”
She was thankful it was a better place, and, she says, a better activity than what others were doing.
Ryan recalls an incident in middle school when kids in his neighborhood, playing with fireworks, set their home’s garage on fire. The blaze spread to the house and within minutes, everything was destroyed.
“They had zero left,” he said. “It really made me think of how my life was, and I appreciated my life after seeing that. After that happened, they were struggling. They had nothing.
“I became more appreciative of my life (as a young teenager).”
Last summer, Rogers ran into those childhood friends on a trip home to Auburn. They’re dealing with substance-abuse problems and still trying to get their lives in order, he said.
Structure, basketball and concerned coaches and parents helped him avoid that future.
“I knew basketball, and my mom and dad, is what kept me going,” he said. “I had good coaches that kept me out of there, even though I was in that (bad) area. They kept me going in the right direction.”
BOTTOMING OUT, BOUNCING BACK
Rogers admits that he stumbled on his path to playing college basketball.
He graduated from Auburn Riverside High School as the boys’ all-time leading scorer, drawing interest from NCAA Division I and II schools. Those disappeared quickly when Rogers failed to qualify academically because of poor SAT scores.
With his dream gone, he began using drugs and alcohol. It was rock bottom, he said.
“I had no more motivation,” Rogers said.
Junior college basketball was his only option. He spurned the local community colleges and chose Longview’s Lower Columbia College, two hours from Auburn.
Coach Jim Roffler, now in his 24th season at LCC, recalls Rogers was like a lot of freshman to come through his program. He said Rogers needed to grow up, and summer months of academic tutoring and even baling hay for $5 an hour helped him accomplish it.
It took three years — in part to a broken foot that led to Rogers’ red shirting the 2011-12 season — but Rogers earned his associate’s degree, the first in his family with any type of college degree.
“He certainly was a man when he left,” Roffler said.
Even with a degree those four-year schools who recruited Rogers weren’t interested in him three years later.
All except Saint Martin’s, and newly hired coach Michael Ostlund.
GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE
Ostlund had been on the job about six weeks when Rogers reached out. Still seeking a player to fill out his roster, Ostlund said the pair talked more about life than basketball when they met on campus for a good three hours in late spring 2013.
“I felt like we were on the same page,” Ostlund said.
Rogers said he felt comfortable, as well. “I wish I’d been here four years instead of two,” Rogers admitted.
He is one of four seniors on a Saints squad that’s won three of their past four games after an 0-5 start. Rogers, named to the preseason all-GNAC team, is averaging 9.3 points per game and is shooting 41.7 percent from the floor.
Ostlund said he’s proud to coach and know Rogers because it’s more than talent that got the senior to where he is.
“Ryan had to take the hard route, and had to work for what he’s gotten,” Ostlund said. “I appreciate him because of it.”