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Joe Watson and Jack Carroll create a friendship over a shared love of basketball

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Eight-year-old Joe Watson loves basketball. After school, Joe heads to the Boys and Girls Club in Lebanon, where he and other kids pick teams and take turns practicing free throws. “Joe eats, drinks, and sleeps basketball,” recalls Joe’s mom, Angie Culley. For a couple of hours a few times each week, the basketball court is a different domain, separate from the rest of Joe’s life.

But the dynamics on the court mirror some of the other challenges that are pervasive in childhood. The scattershot words and bullying, the physical awkwardness of youth, and the seemingly endless need for validation and companionship are still there. For young Joe Watson, they pose extra challenges.

“Joe has always kinda struggled,” says Culley. “Joe is a little slow, and has a harder time making friends around his age.” Adults at the Boys and Girls Club picked up on the need and suggested a mentor might be beneficial.

“I talked it over with Joe’s dad and I filled out the paperwork, turned it in to the Mentoring Partnership, and we connected with Jack,” recalls Culley. 

Jack Carroll, then in his 40s, was approached by staff to consider mentoring. “Jack always said people twisted his arm a little bit. I think he wondered, ‘I don’t know, how am I going to help somebody?’ But after he pondered it for a little bit agreed to give it a shot,” recalls Culley. “Now twelve years later, here we are.”

Then, after a slight pause and a laugh, Culley adds, “Poor Jack, I think Joe must have run him ragged playing basketball sometimes.” 

Mentoring friendship on and off the court

“Joe has some hurdles in life. He’s worked with and through those hurdles, and I was supportive of anyone that could help him,” says Joe’s dad, Kermit Watson. “Moms and dads don’t always say what the kids want to hear, and we figured if someone else could build a friendship with Joe, maybe it’d give another view that, ‘Yeah, I’m your friend, but mom and dad are doing this or that because of a good reason.’”

At first, Jack met Joe at the Boys and Girls Club after school a day or two each week, mostly to shoot hoops and watch others play basketball. For weeks the two built a steady, consistent rapport playing ball. Occasionally talking about school or other matters on and around the court, the conversations grew.

 Both of Joe’s parents never knew what the two talked about — just how they wanted it. “Joe didn’t really tell me much,” recalls Culley with a slight laugh parents everywhere can understand. “I have no idea what they discussed.”

Jack Carroll (left) and Joe Watson (right) at an Indiana Pacers game.
Jack Carroll (left) and Joe Watson (right) at an Indiana Pacers game.

“I wanted them to have a friendly relationship,” says the elder Watson. “I won’t say I was never with Joe and Jack when they were together, but I was happy to have Jack as a positive role model in Joe’s life without me listening in on their conversations.”

“Joe’s diagnosed with ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) — and has some anger issues with that. It’s always been a struggle, and we’ve hoped and prayed with maturity and time he’d get better,” says Culley. Those disciplinary issues sometimes bubbled over at school, where Joe sometimes found himself in the Principal’s office. 

On days Jack met Joe for lunch at school, he’d walk into the office and, as Culley remembers, would say, “Joe, what’d you do?” The disciplinary matters always felt different coming from Jack instead of mom, dad, or a teacher. “They’d talk about what you should and shouldn’t do,” says Culley. 

“Look,” says Culley, “I didn’t listen to my parents when I was young. Sometimes you just need a little extra help. We’re parents, and we both love Joe. But Joe would listen to Jack when he wouldn’t listen to others.” She adds, “From my perspective as a parent, Jack’s part of our family.”

“The highlight of everyone’s life”

Despite a nearly 30-year age difference, “Joe will tell you Jack is his best friend,” says Culley. “I sometimes reached out to Jack to let him know Joe is struggling with this or that, and Jack would help Joe talk through things. He still does.” 

Jack Caroll (left) and Joe Watson (right) pose for a photo at the Boone County Mentoring Partnership annual gala.
Jack Caroll (left) and Joe Watson (right) pose for a photo at the Boone County Mentoring Partnership annual gala. Joe spoke about his experience and friendship with Jack.

“Sometimes, as a paren, you can’t get into the inner workings of a teenager. A mentor can get them to open up a little bit. Sometimes kids need an outlet for things they’re not willing to talk to their parents about,” says Kermit. “Jack sets a solid example for what we’d desire our children to be following in the footsteps of. He’s just a really good salt-of-the-earth person. I appreciate him spending time with our son and helping him develop into a better person.”

“Joe was bullied a lot at school, and I think that was a reason he always knew he could count on Jack,” says Culley. “Sure, he can count on me — I’m mom, mom will always be there and so will his dad, stepmom, and stepdad. But he knew he could count on Jack. That’s why I recommend the Boone County Mentoring Program so much.”

Joe and Jack’s mentoring relationship formally ended two years ago when Joe, then 18, graduated out of the program and high school — a milestone not everyone thought was sure to happen. “Grades have always been a struggle,” says Culley with a pause and a palpable sense of pride. “The fact Joe graduated — I’m telling you, that was the highlight of everyone’s life around Joe because we didn’t know if it was going to happen there for a while.”

Now 20, Joe lives in Plainfield with his extended family and works as a server and cook. While the distance poses some challenges, Joe and Jack still communicate regularly and get together whenever they’re nearby.

“To other parents, I’d tell you there’s definitely a benefit to mentoring,” says Kermit. “I’ve always told Joe, ‘Joe, I want you to be the best Joe you can be. That’s what I want from you, son.’ and Jack has helped him do that.”

You can request more information about becoming a mentor to a young person in Boone County by starting your application online

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