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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Shooting for a cause

    Microbiology freshman Wes Anderson, right, a volunteer coach, gives a halftime pep talk to Taylor Thompson, Austin Borquez, Chris Thompson and Isaiah McKay. The team of fourth- and fifth-graders participated in the Associated Students of the University of Arizona youth basketball league tournament in Bear Down Gymnasium.
    Microbiology freshman Wes Anderson, right, a volunteer coach, gives a halftime pep talk to Taylor Thompson, Austin Borquez, Chris Thompson and Isaiah McKay. The team of fourth- and fifth-graders participated in the Associated Students of the University of Arizona youth basketball league tournament in Bear Down Gymnasium.

    Supee Anderson watches proudly from the sidelines of Bear Down Gymnasium as her 10-year-old son, Vincent Cisneros, shoots a basketball in a championship game of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona youth basketball league.

    He misses, but she cheers loudly as fellow fourth- and fifth-graders on his team, the “”Xtreme Strikers,””run back and forth across the court.

    “”This means so much to my son,”” Anderson said. “”It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, he is just so proud to be here at the U of A and wear a shirt with the UA logo because it makes him feel important and gives him something to look forward to,”” she said.

    Going strong for more than a decade now, the ASUA youth basketball league pairs up UA students, who serve as coaches, with teams of at-risk youth in grades four through eight in a month-long league that emphasizes teamwork, sportsmanship and the importance of higher education.

    The league, run almost entirely by UA students, is free for participants, said John Chapman, league director.

    “”We try to target those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to play in a league and give them a positive mentor to try to show that a college education is possible,”” Chapman said.

    For children like Vincent, who come from low-income families and have never played basketball before, the effects have been remarkable.

    “”My son has learned so much in such a short time,”” Anderson said with a big smile and tears in her eyes. “”He practices on his own now, and it gives him something to concentrate on. A lot of kids at my son’s school want the opportunity to play sports, but most of them cost money.””

    The program runs from February to mid-March. The children get a chance to participate in weekly practices and play a total of seven games, during which each member of the co-ed teams spends an equal amount of time in the game.

    To spread the word about the league, Chapman said league directors distribute about 12,000 fliers to elementary and middle schools across Tucson.

    “”For a while we had only 120 kids,”” Chapman said. “”But last year we had about 500 and this year we have about 700, and they really enjoy it.””

    “”The kids are so cute and so great and their faces just light up.””
    – Abby Spachman,
    youth basketball coach

    The amount of UA students involved has also increased, Chapman said. From serving as a referee to coaching basketball or cheerleading, there are now about 150 UA students involved in the league.

    Stephen Marcoux, a physiology freshman and basketball coach, said he got involved this year because of his love for both kids and basketball.

    “”It seemed like a good fit,”” Marcoux said. “”It has been really fun just watching them understand the game better and have a good time. It’s a really good feeling, and seeing them enjoy it so much is great.””

    The program is sponsored by ASUA and a foundation called The Conquistadors, which each provide about $4,500 annually for basketballs, uniforms and related expenses, Chapman said.

    The league is always looking for donors or outside sponsors, Chapman said, and students from the UA can get involved by filling out an application at the ASUA office, Room 325 of the Student Union Memorial Center.

    Abby Spachman, a pre-business sophomore, has been a coach with the league for two years.

    “”I heard about it, and it sounded like a lot of fun,”” Spachman said. “”The kids are so cute and so great and their faces just light up.””

    Often, both UA student-coaches and the kids who play in the league return year after year, Chapman said.

    “”My son is already talking about being on a team next year,”” Anderson said. “”This is such a small thing that the UA does, but it really means a lot to us.””

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