By Ellen Nason
Two teams from neighboring Indiana cities in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana basketball league were warming up to play a game on a recent Wednesday evening. Excited fans filled the bleachers, cheerleaders gave encouragement and the competitors were full of energy and ready to play. It’s a scene you would find at the start of any basketball game, but the teams’ warm-up jerseys gave the first clue that this would be more than just another basketball game. The message on the back of every jersey: Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
The slogan was chosen by the Boys & Girls Club as a reminder that while the physical activity and fun of the basketball league are both important, the goal goes far beyond that. Five clubs participate in the league to help the kids they serve learn to open their eyes to the differences around them, see new environments, new people and learn to develop skills that will help them handle the successes – and struggles – of life.
The basketball league, open to all kids 13 and younger, was added to the Health and Wellness programming at the suggestion of Micah Wilcher, Unit Director at the Jeffersonville (Indiana) Boys & Girls Club, who saw it as a way to get the kids more active while learning about the importance of teamwork, practicing and persevering.
“The feedback from both the parents and the kids has been positive,” Wilcher said of the league, which is in its second successful year. “Sports taught me a lot of lessons. And I wanted to do the same for others, but I also want this to be fun for the kids. I told the parents that it’s going to be an experience. They’ve had a blast.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs, with help from a $50,000 Humana Foundation grant provided to the Health and Wellness Program, succeeded in delivering a special experience to the dozens of kids participating in the five area clubs. Each team is able to use a personal trainer and is outfitted in uniforms and the warm-up jerseys. The cheer squad also has a coach and uniforms. It provides a chance to fully experience a team sport in a way that many of the kids would never have had.
The uniforms are nice, but one of the reasons the league play has such an impact on the kids is the opportunity to leave their own neighborhoods, which is a first for many of them, said Wilcher. “It helps them learn to open their eyes to new environments, new people.”
Alex Rosado, 14, agreed that while he enjoyed watching his own team get better, one of his favorite aspects of the league was that it gives him a chance to see the different clubs, play with new people and even make new friends. Alex also played in the club’s flag football league and enjoyed the experience so much, he signed up for the basketball league.
Hannah Massey, 12, didn’t hesitate to join the Jeffersonville team even though she would be the only girl, because she said she loves basketball.
“It’s fun and keeps me energized,” said Hannah. “I’ve made a lot of new friends and get to see what other clubs are like.
“We haven’t won a game yet, but we only lost by 9 and not 20 last time,” Hannah said with a big smile. “We’re getting better.”
Wilcher wants to keep the momentum going and is working on a possible summer league that would focus on Olympic events, such as track and field and basketball. He uses his own passion for sports and the lessons he learned playing them to help make a difference with the kids at the clubs.
And it clearly is making a difference.
“This has made a tremendous difference in him, in his attitude,” said Wilcher, recalling the effect the club has had on one member, who became a regular in the gym, interacting, playing and even volunteering to clean up. “He was in trouble, didn’t want to listen and was headed in a bad direction. But he’s a different person now, a different kid. We may not save every kid (in trouble), but if we can save one, it’s a success.”
The Jeffersonville Steamers didn’t get to celebrate their first basketball victory that Wednesday night, but they came closer than ever, losing by only 5 points to the Ed Endres Bulldogs from nearby New Albany. And as their warm-ups remind us, winning a game is not the only goal or even the most important one.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Sometimes you change a life headed in the wrong direction. That’s a huge victory for all to celebrate.
See the two teams in action in this short video: