USM athletes bridge community gap and mentor youth basketball

Posted on January 27, 2014 in Sports, Sports Feature
By Justicia Barreiros

The Athletics Department has been engaging with the town of Gorham to improve relations and build community as a whole.

The Second Annual ‘Town of Gorham Night’ took place at the men and women’s basketball games on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Warren Hill Gymnasium.  Cheered on by the crowd, third and fourth grade students had the opportunity to play short basketball games during both of the halftimes. According to Alan Grady, youth coordinator at Gorham Recreation Department, there were eight boy’s teams and six girl’s teams for a total of approximately 140 kids from recreation programs at Great Falls, Village and Narragansett Elementary Schools.

Grady was pleased with how the event turned out. “This is our second time running it so we’ve adjusted a few rules to make for maximum participation for our kids,” he said. “The kids had a great time meeting and high-fiving the mascot too.”

Town of Gorham Night provided a great opportunity for the kids and parents to check out the facilities and resources that USM has to offer the community. “This past fall, USM was able to host the Division III NCAA Regional Cross Country Meet for both men and women at our cross country course in Gorham, behind Narragansett School. Over 1,000 runners competed,” said Grady about the mutual sharing of athletic resources.

“Gorham High School athletics and USM athletics have been sharing fields and courts and tracks for many years now and that has afforded both of our populations the opportunity for improved training and game play that neither of us otherwise could have accomplished,” said Grady.

This event is just one of many community outreach initiatives organized by the Athletics Department. “Annually we put on the community Halloween party and that brings about 500 community kids in,” said Meredith Bickford, assistant director of the Athletics Department. “Prior to that, last year, the student athletes started a pen pal program with Great Falls Elementary School.”

According to Bickford, many student athletes also participated with the student ambassador program at Great Falls Elementary translating the school’s codes of conduct and bullying programs into daily life lessons. She also mentioned that they were incorporating USM’s CARE initiative (Courtesy Attitude Respect Everywhere) into Great Fall’s code of conduct.

“And this year, I developed a mentoring program where I had about 16 or 17 student athletes in the fall serve as mentors to children K thru 5 at Great Falls,” said Bickford. The students mentored 25 hours for the semester, about once or twice a week, according to Bickford.  “However, I have had a couple of students that have wanted to continue the program this spring,” she said.

The Athletics Department also hosts youth clinics and camps throughout the year. There have also been skating and sledding events in which children from the community can come and skate or sled with the student athletes and the USM mascot “Champ” for free. These community events allow the kids to connect more on a personal level with the student athletes than they did while at a USM youth camp or clinic, according to Bickford. This amount of community outreach serves a way to build relationships between the kids of the community and USM student athletes.

“In Gorham, we’re really lucky. I don’t feel like a lot of colleges get that experience. Even just being out at GHOP, seeing the kids and their parents. We’re really fortunate to be such well-known people to the community,” said Abby Hasson, junior elementary education major and forward on the women’s basketball team. “With my major it’s a very beneficial experience and great to have those connections.”

“I think that it’s important that both USM and Gorham realize the uniqueness of having a college campus here [in Gorham] and how beneficial it can be to both parties involved,” said Bickford. “The benefit to a child having a mentor at the college level. The way the kids look up to them and admire them––not every kid gets to have that.”