Growing up in Central Falls, CeCe Baptista couldn’t escape the negativity that echoed louder than the balls bouncing on the asphalt playgrounds in Rhode Island’s most underserved city..
“(People) would look at me and (say) I wasn’t going to make it anywhere,” said Baptista. “When I’d go to the park to play basketball I’d hear, ‘you know this is it, you know no one out of Central Falls does anything.’”
Baptista has proved everyone wrong.
The Bay View scholar-athlete’s hard work and determination has provided her a well-earned pathway to success. In the state championship game, in the last game of her high school basketball career, Baptista played a critical role to lead 8th seeded Bengals to an OT win over top seeded North Kingstown.
Bay View tops NK 42-40 for the state championship.
CeCe Baptista’s bucket with eight seconds left was the difference.
— William Geoghegan (@RhodyWill) March 12, 2023
The Bengals strong, scrappy center, who stands nearly 6-feet, had double-double, made critical plays throughout the game – including the closing seconds of OT and was named the Player of the Game.
Tough as nails on boards, she is humble off the court.
“I would give (this award) to my whole team if I could because none of this happens with(out) every single one of them,” she insisted. “Without my team, I’m not here.
“She deserves it (award),” said Bay View second year coach Dawan Robinson. “She works so hard. She’s so strong, a monster on the boards, has a high basketball IQ and she has a big heart. I’m so happy for her.”
The daughter of a single mom of three, there were hardships and challenges, but she kept busy focusing her energy on sports and school work. A straight A student, she credits her mom for putting a strong emphasis on the importance of academics.
“My mom is my number one supporter in everything I do. I have never met a woman who stresses academics more than she does,” said Baptista.“She has never missed a game. Even if she can’t be there, she watches online. She is my role model.”
When Baptista entered Bay View as a freshman she joined a program that had little structure and was in disarray. The coaches came in and out like a revolving door and the wins were sparse.
Enter Robinson, the former pro and URI star, who took over Bay View’s squad last year when Baptisa was a junior. Tara Gomes, the wife of Bishop Hendricken coach Jamal Gomes, joined Robinson’s staff and the two quickly turned the program around by instilling discipline, teamwork structure and trust- critical ingredients that had been missing from the program.
“He is phenomenal,” Baptista said. “Dawan became more than just a coach. He became a mentor.”
Robinson learned from his own mentor Jamal Gomes that team chemistry was the first step in creating a successful program. Since Bay View’s staff had changed so frequently, he also knew he had to build trust.
“Our coaching staff had changed so many times. We never found trust in a single coach. I was blessed to have had Tara and Dawan. They set a schedule and stuck to it. There was nothing they said that they didn’t deliver which allowed us to almost be closer as a team. Dawan set the tone. We knew we could rely on him and each other.”
Baptista spent a good portion of her first season under Robinson watching from the bench after she suffered a bad concussion during a game against North Kingstown.
“She couldn’t play or practice. She’s so tough. It was so hard for her. She missed being out there and felt she was letting the team down. I saw that she was struggling so I started giving her jobs to do at practice and in the games to keep her involved,” said Robinson.
Baptista returned this season apprehensive and fearful of being hurt. She knew one bad hit to the ground and she could be done for the season. The mental game took over and she thought about handing in her uniform.
“There was a time after my concussion when I just wanted to quit and Dawan was my biggest supporter, telling me it was going to get better and I just had to give it time. He would spend extra time after practice to do one on one things with me that had nothing to do with basketball. He helped me get the confidence back. And knowing my teammates had my back made a huge difference. I knew it was going to be ok.”
“It was her mindset. I needed her. I promised I would protect her and try my best to make sure she didn’t get hurt,” said Robinson. “I told her I had her back – always.”
“I put my trust in Dawan because he put his trust in me and I went full steam ahead the rest of the way,” said Baptista.
She averaged in double digits in points and rebounds this season to help lead her team its first title since 2015.
She shares both a birthday and a strong bond with Robinson.
“Dawan has had one of the biggest impacts on my life,” Baptisa said, her voice filled with emotion. “He is always there whenever I need anything. He’s truly been an inspiration why I want to give back so much.”
Baptista plans to study law enforcement and play ball at CCRl. She hopes to one day join the police academy.
And those who said she would never leave Central Falls, may just be right. But it’s not a bad thing.
“I want to be a police officer in Central Falls,” she said. “I am big into giving back to the community that shaped me into who I am. Growing up in Central Falls there were a lot of kids who didn’t believe – and I was one of those kids – you couldn’t do much coming from the city. Now that I’ve made it this far, I want to be in a position to give back and show kids it is possible.”