GREEN BAY – Green Bay West boys basketball coach Chris Harris and Green Bay East boys basketball coach Rick Rosinski have known each other for about as long as they can remember.
Harris and Rosinski are a year apart in age and grew up about a block away from each other on the east side of Green Bay.
They can recall playing countless hours of Wiffle ball together as kids before going on to attend high school at East in the mid-1980s.
The longtime friends played football, basketball and American Legion baseball during their prep years.
Harris and Rosinski also did their best to go unnoticed in staging their own football games with friends during the winter months in the snow at City Stadium.
“We would sneak under the fence at City Stadium and would play tackle football,” Rosinski said. “Those were just some of the things we would do.”
On Saturday, East and West will be doing their part to help tackle an issue that unfortunately goes unnoticed far too often when the schools combine for the fifth annual “Silent Night Against Homelessness and Hunger” basketball doubleheader.
The fifth annual event featuring girls and boys basketball games between the rival schools will be hosted at West this year. The event has raised $21,440 the previous four years in addition to food, blankets and hygiene products.
The proceeds benefit the local McKinney-Vento program, which supports homeless and unaccompanied children in the Green Bay School District.
During the 2015-16 school year, the district identified 1,015 students, or 4.8 percent of its enrollment, as homeless at the end of the school year. Eighty of those individuals were considered unaccompanied homeless youth.
The McKinney-Vento program defines “homeless children and youth” as someone 20 years old or younger who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. The definition also factors in shared residences and unaccompanied youth.
Rosinski said he helped found the “Silent Night” games as a way to help shed some light on a difficult circumstance he has seen some of his players go through in his 15 years as head coach at East.
“When you see the kids we have, and you see some of the struggles they face, you have a little better understanding of how these kids are actually growing up,” said Rosinski, a 1987 East graduate.
Rosinski and Harris share fond memories of the games they used to play in their youth. Their love of sports is part of the reason they both got into coaching.
But the pair of basketball coaches said times were tough as well, growing up in single-parent households in which their moms worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“I can relate to a lot of the home struggles that some of these kids face because I can remember my mom struggling maybe to have enough money to put oil in the furnace in the winter so we could have heat,” Rosinski said.
Harris said his coaches had a tremendous impact on shaping his life.
“Growing up without a father, those guys became my role models,” Harris said of individuals like former East football coach John Kolstad.
“To me, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. To give these kids an opportunity, because I was them. I want to be able to show them what hard work and dedication can do to a life.”
Harris, a 1988 East graduate, has coached in the Green Bay Metro Basketball club for 15 years and is the organization’s president.
After watching his youngest daughter, Cameron, complete her senior season last year at Green Bay Preble, Harris decided to apply for the open head-coaching position at West.
Harris relishes the opportunity to teach the fundamentals of the game. But he has taken greater pride during his coaching career in being a source of stability for the individuals who have faced difficulties off the court.
“(Coaching) became more than just my kids,” Harris said. “It became about how can I help all these kids? That’s why I coach, in a nutshell. It’s just about the kids.
“I think Rick and I are similar in that we lived this. This was us. … A lot of these kids didn’t ask to be in the situations they’re in, and what can we do to help them out? This is what Silent Night is all about, stepping up as a community.”
There have been 34 players who have gone on to play some level of college basketball during Rosinski’s tenure as head coach at East. He said several of them didn’t have “stable” home situations but persevered to get the opportunity to go to college.
Still, Rosinski wishes he could do more.
“It’s heart-wrenching at times,” Rosinski said. “You try to help give them advice as much as you can or point them in the right direction or have them talk with one of the social workers and see what they can do. But sometimes when go to practice and maybe a kid is not there, you’re kind of upset with what’s going on but then you hear something like, ‘Coach, I don’t know where I’m going to be staying tonight.’ Then, it’s not so much about basketball anymore. It’s about real-life situations.
The Silent Night games are obviously about so much more than basketball.
But the unique event also has heightened the excitement level for the rivalry between East and West.
For the games, fans from both sides remain quiet until one team scores its 10th point, at which time the entire gym erupts in cheers and continues that way for a few minutes.
The boys game will be the 197th meeting between East and West, making it the most played sports rivalry among Green Bay area sports.
Having childhood friends like Harris and Rosinski on opposite benches for it has only added to the magnitude of the series this year.
East beat West 53-44 in the first meeting this season on Jan 3. The two coaches said they were so focused on the game that they forgot to soak in how special it was to be squaring off against each other.
“We’re so competitive we didn’t have that moment,” Harris said. “Maybe we’ll have it Saturday night.
“Rick walked away with the win last time, so I would say right now we still have unfinished business.”
For Harris and Rosinski, they’re in the business of doing much more than coaching.
“To me, it’s about developing these kids to be young men,” Harris said.
“If we’re not developing these young men to become leaders in our community we’ve failed them.”
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IF YOU GO
What: Green Bay East-Green Bay West basketball doubleheader called “Silent Night Against Homelessness and Hunger.”
When, where: The girls game starts at 5:45 p.m. Saturday at the West gymnasium. The boys game follows at approximately 7:15 p.m.
The cause: Proceeds will benefit the McKinney-Vento program, which supports homeless and unaccompanied children in the Green Bay School District.
Admission: Spectators are asked to bring canned goods in place of paid admission.
Pregame: Forever Dance Company and the Green Bay West color guard will perform before the girls game. The East and West drumlines will perform prior to the boys game.
Other activities: There will be a kid zone for students in grades 1-8 with a bouncy house, photo booth, costume contest, wing-eating contest and games. The kid zone is free. High school students also will have a costume and wing-eating contest. There will be a raffle of gift baskets and silent-auction items, including autographed Green Bay Packers memorabilia, Milwaukee Bucks ticket packages and a two-bedroom condo stay at Bluegreen Odyssey in Wisconsin Dells.