|The Thunder was the championship winning team.|
|Al-Noor Academy is a team from a Muslim school that did not previously have a league to compete in.|
On a recent Saturday, the Islamic Cultural Center in Roxbury gave off a peaceful air of prayer and meditation — with one noisy exception on the third floor, where young men debated about who had the best game.
The Muslim Athletic League (MAL) concluded its inaugural basketball season with a small awards ceremony to celebrate the success of the new project. Odsen “Hudson” Piton, founder and CEO of the MAL, acts as both a leader and peer to his players.
Piton was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. by Haitian immigrant parents and now resides in Worcester. He received his bachelor’s degree in management from Salem State University and his MBA in marketing from Johnson and Wales University. He works for PepsiCo as a sales manager, and treats the MAL as his nonprofit gift to the community.
A convert to Islam almost six years ago, Piton’s idea for an organization was part of a natural progression in his path of finding the faith that was right for him.
Throughout high school, Piton acted as a mentor to a younger student in a program through his church, where he would regularly organize events for youth. “I found kids wanting to be around me,” he said. “And so I try to provide opportunity for them.”
The MAL combines Piton’s two greatest passions: community outreach to youth and sports. Like many boys growing up, he aspired to be a professional athlete as an adult, specifically in the NBA. When it came time for college, however, he needed to work to help fund the rest of his tuition that his scholarship did not cover.
After attaining his degrees, he realized he wanted sports back in his life. He said that the idea for the MAL came to him on the basketball court one day when he was playing with his friends. According to Piton, he asked his buddies, “Hey, why don’t we start something where we can bring people together?”
That was two years ago, and the league is now under way as an institution operating throughout the year, with seasons for basketball, soccer, baseball and football. The MAL is currently open to young men age 13 and older, and being Muslim is not a requirement for membership. In fact, part of the league’s mission is to foster friendships between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“Oh man, we have people from all over,” said Piton, citing players of various faiths and ethnicities. “When you come here,” he said, “you see the beauty of what we’re doing.”
Piton has plans to significantly expand the MAL, with the ultimate goal of creating an organization similar to the YMCA. In the same way that the Y was founded to promote positive experiences for youth through Christian values of peace and brotherhood, Piton wants the MAL to do the same under the banner of Islam.
In the next several years, Piton plans to actively campaign to collect funds and sponsorships, in order to acquire his own facility and make the league a fixture in communities both inside and outside of Massachusetts. Right now, though, he is focused on making the different sports seasons run successfully.
Basketball players Youbie Abdelrahman, 15, a member of the league’s second place team, and Shani Abo, 20, a member of the league’s championship team, are confident that Piton can achieve his goals.
Abdelrahman, a student of Sudanese ancestry at Al-Noor Academy in Mansfield, admitted that the league started from nothing. “At first, I didn’t really think the idea was gonna go that far, but after attending some tournaments, attending some events, I thought to myself, ‘This could really happen.’ ”
Abo, a student originally from Somalia who is set to receive his degree in business management next summer at Bunker Hill Community College, agrees. “I can see Hudson pulling it together,” he said. “He’s a well-rounded person that can achieve. He’s a go-getter.”
“And the fact that he lives in Worcester, that he comes all the way over here to do this is amazing, you know?” added Abo, to which he and Abdelrahman said in unison, “That’s dedication.”
Piton clearly loved seeing his players grow as athletes. “What I saw this past season was the amount of talent we were able to recruit,” he said. “I mean, this guy right here [pointing at Abo], he’s MVP caliber, and this guy [pointing at Abdelrahman] is a three-point shooter.
“I just like the fact that guys who hadn’t met before came together and played and had fun, and got to compete at a high level. And respect one another — I think that was big. I really like that.”
For more information, visit muslimathleticleague.org.
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