CLAYPOOL — The NCCAA Basketball Championships can be a hectic time for players and coaches. With so much time and energy spent preparing for the national tournament, it’s nice to take a step back from basketball for just a moment and remember there is more at stake than championships.
Which is a big part of the reason for the association’s annual service projects.
Each of the 16 teams invited to the men’s and women’s tournaments traveled to schools and community centers throughout Kosciusko County Tuesday in the annual tradition that represents the final lead-up to the championships, which begin Wednesday morning at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on the campus of Grace College. Grace’s women’s team made the trip to nearby Claypool Elementary School to work with young students for their service project Tuesday afternoon.
“Just being involved in something like today, as coaches I think you can get tunnel vision — you just think about the next game, and let’s win,” explained Grace women’s basketball coach Dan Davis. “So stuff like this is just neat because you do teach your kids. This is the stuff you’re trying to instill in them about giving back and serving, and at this time of the year, I think it’s a nice break, honestly.”
“This tournament is different from a lot of the other national tournaments because it’s later, so we’ve had two straight weeks of practicing, which is a lot. So today, we’ve already had our practice, but it’s kind of cool because we’re done and it’s kind of something else you can focus on aside from basketball,” echoed freshman guard Kamryn Hostetler. “And also realizing we’re playing for something bigger than just basketball, which can be kind of hard to remember sometimes when you’re practicing so much. It’s a good reminder that you have other people that are watching, too.”
While some teams in the tourney field spent time at the local Salvation Army or at retirement communities, others served at elementary schools throughout the area. The Lady Lancers worked with Claypool students in the classroom and even got in a little game of knockout with the kids during recess.
And of course, their young hosts were happy to have them.
“Lots of smiles, for sure,” said junior guard Micaela Box.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” said Claypool Principal Melissa Rees. “Our girls basketball team — that’s fourth, fifth and sixth grade — those are the grade levels they’re in, and those are the grades that (Grace’s players) are working with. So they’ll be able to see that vision as they move up and hopefully become better basketball players and maybe follow the same path to college.
“We just think it’s an important thing for our kids to see older kids doing something that maybe they would aspire to do someday.”
Tuesday’s NCCAA Championships service project at Claypool was the fourth and final one for Lady Lancer senior Brooke Sugg, who says she’s come to look forward to the service projects as one of her favorite parts of tournament week. And the students Grace’s ladies came to visit Tuesday will have the opportunity to return the favor during tournament play, as Warsaw Community Schools elementary students are bussed in to the Grace campus to cheer on the Lancers and take a tour of the grounds.
“This experience, it’s one of my favorite parts of the whole week because we can go out into the community and come see these kids,” said Sugg. “It’s really cool, too — a lot of these schools will have classrooms come and watch our games during the day. It’s really fun to see them in the stands and have them around and cheering. And I think it’s just a really good start to the week of just kind of putting others before ourselves before we start to compete on the court and get super competitive.”