Men’s basketball team, PE class team up to help kids

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by Scott Schleisman

The men’s basketball team and the Heartland Area Educational Agency 11 are pairing up to make a difference in disabled children’s lives. The team is volunteering time and effort to help students from Indianola, Norwalk, I-35 (Truro), Valley High School in West Des Moines and other surrounding schools. The students range in age from three to 21.

“Currently we have a schedule where kids will come and swim one-on-one with the team,” head basketball coach Bruce Wilson said.

The team, as well as Simpson physical education majors in Physical Education 325 and other volunteers, meet with the students on Thursdays from 9:30-10 a.m., 10:00-10:30 a.m. and 12:30-1 p.m.

“We are very fortunate for everything we have and need to help the community in any way we can,” Wilson said. “Being in the water is something that these kids may not get many opportunities, if any, to do.”

In addition to the swimming program, the men’s basketball team also volunteers by running a basketball camp for youth with disabilities. The basketball team’s annual Hot Shot Fun Day is currently in its 15th year. This event is for junior and senior high-school students and this year, almost 300 students participated.

“Our students think it’s cool to play in the Fieldhouse or run on the track,” said Robin Olberding, consultant and adapted PE specialist for the Heartland AEA. “They especially like [the] time during the Hot Shot contest when the team does a slam dunk or 3-point contest. It was very touching this year to see the basketball team members lift some of our students up so they could slam one down, too.”

The team’s community service doesn’t end with its basketball season. In May the team volunteers alongside numerous other Simpson volunteers at the Special Olympics held at Buxton Stadium.

“The Hot Shot contest and the one-on-one swimming were started because the track and field day goes over so well every year,” Olberding said.

This May, Olberding and Wilson have signed up more than 500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Our students and teachers look forward to the events at Simpson because they know they will be fun and geared for all students,” Olberding said. “There will be high-level involvement from the Simpson students and everyone will leave with a smile on their face. Our students practice their skills for the track day and get excited to show off their stuff.”

While the children get to have a lot of fun, it’s also meaningful for the athletes on the men’s basketball team, and their coach.

“It is great to see the smile on the kid’s faces,” senior basketball player Brad Allen said. “It is exciting for them and the excitement is contagious.”

“We like to think of it as ‘volunteer-mandatory,'” Wilson said. “I wouldn’t make them run if they decided not to help out, but I think they all should be there. Sometimes the freshmen come in leery to the service, but it doesn’t take long until they are having as much fun as the kids.”

It goes without saying that everyone enjoys the day, but the kids are all smiles when the team is there to help.

“There is an incredible amount of learning that results from these events both for the college students, teachers and students involved,” Olberding said. “Our students do not know, understand or care if they made all of their shots in the previous game, if they missed the game winning shot or if they are a reserve player and sit on the bench. They do know that, ‘They like me, they called me by name, smiled at me, helped me and gave me a high five.'”