For someone who never spent any time in South Boston, it would take about five minutes in Medal of Honor Park on a busy Sunday to get the "Southie" vibe.

There are kids running and screaming on the playgrounds, grown men greeting each other and bickering across a baseball field that served as a filming location for 'Good Will Hunting’ and moms chatting by the basketball court. A few of them sound like they could be an extra in a Wahlberg movie.

On that court, 18-year-old Thomas White has his hands full coaching elementary school boys in a tightly contested basketball game.

It’s an activity that just a few months ago would have seemed impossible.

Most importantly to White — who has chronicled his senior year of high school as part of GBH News' COVID and the Classroom series — it’s giving him the chance to connect back to Southie and to simply see his friends again.

“Seeing them every Sunday kind of feels like almost like that return to normalcy feeling," he said in between a practice for younger players and the game. "It’s just been great to get out and see family friends whose kids are coming by or also just like, you know, my normal school friends who also live in Southie — and they coach with me — who I haven’t seen in a while.”

That’s especially important for White who has decided it’s not worth it to go back to school with a little under a month left in his senior year at Boston Latin School and a risk still present from COVID-19.

But while in-school interaction is still cut off for White and the many other students who have opted out of returning, activities like Sunday basketball are helping to make up for time lost to the pandemic. It’s a big deal for the for the volunteer coaches and their young players, too.

“I think they were very anxious, and I know the parents were, too," said Sean Monahan, who helps run the program for the Gate of Heaven Catholic Youth Organization. "I would meet [them] some of the time on the street and they would say, ‘Oh, when are we gonna get basketball together?’ And, you know, I don’t know. ‘Cause they would keep telling us no, no, no.”

Over the winter, the program was canceled as cases rose across the state. Now that it’s back, Monahan knows how much it means to the players and how volunteers like White made it all possible.

On this particular Sunday, the wind howls for most of the session, veering shots well off course. Jets flying in and out of Logan shriek over the park.

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Thomas White coaches a basketball game on May 2.
Joanie Tobin GBH News

On the court, White tries to run a tight ship, which is easier said than done when dealing with boys who are as young as first-graders. He’s patient but serious with the players under his wing. But even White — a high school runner looking forward to running on Bucknell University’s track and cross-country teams — knows when to let up, especially given the conditions of the past year.

“We were doing a drill and I was like ‘Come on, you can’t be so lazy!’" White said with a laugh. "And [one of the players] was like ‘We haven’t worked out in a year!’ And I was like, fair enough. We’re working hard today, as long as you put in the effort, that’s fine.”

White missed that connection with Southie kids over the winter, but they’re not the only ones benefitting from the city’s reboot. For White, life is starting to finally open back up again after a year in seclusion. Not too long ago M Street would be empty as he would go on runs, a shell of the life now coursing through the park.

“During COVID, I would run down here just on a run through Southie and there would be almost no one here," he said.

Now, a spring track season with real meets has White amped up in a way he hasn’t been all year. Graduation and leaving home for the first time for college is just around the corner. But after months of Zoom classes and worry, getting back to really being outside in the neighborhood he grew up in and giving back to its kids is its own sort of Southie convocation for White.