Rewind the time to 1988 in North City, St. Louis, MO. A group of young boys ride the bus or walk to the nearest basketball court with ball in hand passing the drugs, alcohol, gambling, and death that surround them. At a time in St. Louis where the streets were claiming so many young black lives, the Pepperboys found their way on blacktops and gym floors. Originally from the south side of Chicago the Pepperboys, Marlon, Willie aka Joker, and Milan aka Choc short for Chocolate, moved to St. Louis. Getting used to the new surroundings was easy basketball courts don’t have addresses or zip codes and a new Pepperboy, Gabriel would help show them the ropes. For as long as he can remember basketball has been a passion for Milan Pepper. Whether it was him and Joker battling big brother Marlon on makeshift rims in alleys, playing varsity at Gateway Institute of Technology, 4 years at SW Oklahoma State, overseas in Singapore, or playing with various teams; the now owner and team captain of the IBA St. Louis Trotters, basketball has taken on a whole new meaning. In order to make the Trotters a reality he had only to look at long time mentor and originator of the St. Louis Trotters, local basketball icon and celebrated coach Harold Webster.
The St. Louis Trotters began in the 1970’s out of St. Stevens Lutheran Church as part of a boy scout team troop #14. Its name sake, the Harlem Globetrotters, coach a long time fan. From St. Stevens the team moved west to play at the Yalem Community Center which is now the West End Center. It is at West End Center where all basketball players from both sides of the river came to play. If you were a ball player back in the day you wanted to play at West End. The Trotters had the first AAU team in the inner city, so all players in the city would come and tryout for the team.
The Trotters have had a lot of players come thought its system: Shawn Bush, Randy Reed, Anthony Bonner, Shawn Tunstall, David Thurkil, Dink jones, Rob Wallace, Shotgun Campbell, Ramon Trice, Ken Kaid, and Cornell Hayes aka Nelly. Two of those players went on to play in the NBA and Hip Hop Superstar Nelly went on to sell millions of records! After being affiliated with a few other failed semi pro basketball ventures Coach Webster had wanted to take the Trotters to the next level and the opportunity presented itself at just the moment when IBA League commissioner impressed with Milan and Harold’s passion and know-how offered them a franchise in the growing and exclusive league.
Taking the Trotters to that next level will not be easy, in what is arguably one of the best sports cities in the country; there will be several challenges. What would happen next over the coming months is movie worthy. First putting together a top squad would be important and between Milan and Coach Webster the talent needed in order to make a run in the IBA was at their fingertips. Between cashing in favors for practice gyms and counting on years of respect earned for time spent in the community, Pepper and Webster reached out to men like Mike Nettles, Lawndale Thomas, and Charles Woods to name a few. It was the contribution of these men united for a love of basketball that in many ways helped Coach Webster and Milan Pepper feel like they were on the right path; After all one of the communities own was endeavoring to bring professional basketball back to St. Louis. Marketing would also be important to the team’s success and Milan Pepper knew just where to begin. Longtime family friend, DeWarren Smith had a knack for promotion and marketing. Working with graphic designers was something, Smith had been doing for a while and after a marketing internship at Notifi Music Group and then pushing Tef Poe to the national scene through XXL Magazine and The Source, he tired of the music scene. “I just wasn’t helping anyone, I know what’s out here and deep down I was searching for something more,” says Smith. What initially began as helping a friend reignited a passion in basketball not felt since Jordan won his sixth ring and instantly became a channel towards community service.
The Trotters have picked up some serious talent to help take them to a new level in there 2nd full season in the IBA. Jackie “JP” Phillips, known for promotion and marketing; came onboard toward the end of the Trotters 1st season. Bubbling with excitement, ideas, associations, and energy; JP entered the mix and helped bring new life into the organization facilitating a special relationship with MVP Bar & Grill (TrottersHQ) and other local businesses. The Trotters also have added firepower to its coaching staff with Coach Milt Stith who experienced success in the collegiate ranks. Coach Marlon Pepper after obtaining his Masters has decided to take on a more active role in the front office this season taking on the responsibilities as the franchises’ COO. “I’m so proud of my boys,” says Barbara. “With the talent, the deep love we have for the community, and the mission we have set before us we are already champions. Now all we needs is to bring that IBA championship trophy back to the city where it belongs.“
-Victor Newman (Pseudonym)
words by Dewarren Smith