Joshua Concepcion and Ruben Vargas have been best friends for over 20 years. Growing up in Chelsea, they lived a block away from each other and would meet half way at Vargas’ grandmother’s house because there was a basketball hoop in her backyard. Now the two are the new leaders of Chelsea Youth Basketball League (CYBL) with Concepcion as president, and Vargas as vice president.
“Our mission statement is ‘crafting today’s youth into the builders and leaders of tomorrow,” smiled Concepcion, proud of the acronym he created.
Since beginning their new positions in November 2022, Concepcion and Vargas were able to organize programs in five weeks; obtaining local sponsorships for each of the 16 teams within a week-and-a-half.
“People love their city,” said Concepcion, a lifelong Chelsea resident. “When kids are involved, too, it makes them want to help out even more and get involved. That’s what it’s all about.”
Concepcion and Vargas remember how the COVID-19 pandemic halted everything a week before playoffs, including the following season. Players returned in 2021 with restrictions. Now mask wearing is optional, and Concepcion and Vargas have noticed an increase in enthusiasm and interest in the sport.
“I remember last year, kids were huffing and puffing in masks. It was hard for them. Even sitting around, spectating was uncomfortable for people,” recalled Vargas. “The kids are enjoying themselves and being around each other again. They went a whole summer with no basketball hoops up because cities were taking the rims off in parks. It was tough for kids to be able to go out and shoot a hoop if they didn’t own one. I’m glad they’re back.”
Chelsea Youth Basketball League has been intrinsic to the community for decades; and this year is serving 178 participants between the ages of 5-13.
“Teamwork, communication with others, push yourself,” listed Concepcion about the important lessons he hopes youth learn while playing basketball. “Sometimes you have people yelling at you. Step above it. I try to teach that as much as I can.”
Concepcion and Vargas volunteer to coach the Junior League (8-10-year-olds), and Senior League (11-14-years-olds). Every practice is unique with the diverse personalities and talents that each player brings to the court.
“Sometimes hard work does beat talent. When you apply yourself and push yourself to achieve any kind of goal in life, sports are a good way to learn that if you practice enough, you’ll get good at it,” explained Vargas. “You can put the best product out for yourself and your team. Through this sport, we’ve been able to reach kids.”
Concepcion and Vargas have seen how CYBL positively impacts youth and families.
“I have kids coming up to me in Market Basket, shouting at me from afar, ‘It’s Coach Josh,’” imitated Concepcion. “A lot of these kids I’ve known since they were 5, and they’re about to go into high school now. They always say ‘hi’ to you whenever you see them. They care about me, and listen to what I say.”
When former CYBL president, Yamir Rodriguez, approached Concepcion about assuming his title, Vargas was the first person that Concepcion called to join him. The friends had coached and refereed together for years. Vargas even served as best man during Concepcion’s wedding.
“I love the rush of it,” beamed Vargas, who loves the competitiveness, and togetherness of basketball. “Being able to run an actual league, it feels like being in a game. I wake up in the morning, and I’m ready to go.”
Basketball has been a part of Vargas’ entire life. One of his earliest memories was of his father placing a basketball in his hand when he was 3-years-old. Vargas taught Concepcion — who had been a football player – how to play basketball when they were boys; and Concepcion recalls cheering for Vargas in the bleachers during games.
“I started playing organized basketball at CYBL when I was 9-13. I’ve always had a love for the game,” Vargas recollected. “I played two years at Chelsea High School, and two years at Revere High School.”
His passion for the game, as well as the birth of his now 9-year-old nephew, Jayzian Alvarado, inspired Vargas to become a couch. Now Jayzian is a member of Vargas’ Junior League team.
Concepcion’s 13-year-old daughter, Jayliana’s, interest in basketball motivates him.
“I give her pointers on how to play basketball,” said Concepcion. “We’re thinking of putting her as an assistant coach for me next year, so she can learn more about the game.”
When the friends are not coaching, Concepcion, a box truck driver, enjoys playing Pokémon; and Vargas, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning engineer, participates in a bowling league.
As Concepcion and Vargas continue into the first year of their new positions, they hinted at plans for CYBL, which include community outreach, and teams cleaning local parks in the summer.
“The simplest things can go a long way, and show these kids if you take care of the community, the community is going to take care of you,” Vargas emphasized.