From working out brain teasers, jumping rope on the playground, and celebrating wins on the basketball court, 24 Southwest Elementary fifth graders and the members of the Pratt Community College mens basketball team have shared plenty of good times this year.


From working out brain teasers, jumping rope on the playground, and celebrating wins on the basketball court, 24 Southwest Elementary fifth graders and the members of the Pratt Community College mens basketball team have shared plenty of good times this year.
Both mens basketball coach Trevor Rolfs and fifth grade teacher Connie Schartz say the students and players have enjoyed the partnership, which was revived a few years ago.
Schartz had been involved with a Basketball Buddies program in the past with former PCC coach Bernie Pearson, and a few years ago, she mentioned the idea to Rolfs.
“We jumped on it right away. I?thought it was a fantastic idea,” he said. “It’s been great for those kids, and they’ve gotten a lot out of it, but I think our guys get as much out of it and have as much fun as the kids do.”
Schartz also believes that her students gain several things from the buddy program, but the main thing is that it gives her students another role model.
“Those basketball players are just idols to them,” she said. “Now they see them at Wal-Mart and other places, and they feel like they’re approachable. They’re good role models for the kids.”
The players visit Schartz’s classroom on a regular basis, and this year’s team has made more visits than Schartz originally expected, creating a demand for more activities.
But, the program has enough to offer that Schartz is happy to do some additional planning for when the PCC buddies visit.
During their visits, the players will spend approximately 45 minutes in the classroom doing academic activities before venturing out to the playground for a little bit of outdoor fun.
“We’ll spend at least three-fourths of the time we’re there every time on academic stuff with the kids,” Rolfs said. “We did a math game with them the last couple times we were there.”
“Whenever they come, we do some critical thinking activities, some brain teasers, and they work with their buddies trying to solve some pretty difficult math puzzles, so they gain some critical thinking skills,” Schartz said.
Between visits, Schartz’s 24 students have made several signs to be displayed at the Beaver Dome during home games, and the students were PCC’s guests of honor during the Feb. 25 home game against Hutchinson.
With their buddies in the stands wearing road jerseys, the Beavers stomped Hutchinson 93-76.
“They made individual t-shirts for themselves and we let them wear our road jerseys,” Rolfs said. The “Little Buddies” were also introduced before the mens game and they helped form two lines for the starters to run through as they were introduced.
“It’s just a great relationship,” Rolfs said. “Yeah, we help them with some homework, we do some academic projects and things like that, we play on the playground, but to me the special thing is the relationship we’ve developed with the kids.”
Despite the emphasis on academic projects, Schartz feels that the most important result of the buddy program is matching fifth graders up with college-age role models.
“The biggest thing is having a mentor,” she said. “They’ve come a lot this year, and so the kids are just so close to them.”
Australian center Illiwa Baldwin has two buddies, including one student with Down Syndrome.
When hanging out with Baldwin, “Jacob Quint is just a different kid,” Schartz says. “He talks more, and he just loves hanging out with Illi.”
“It was a good way to re-visit some childhood memories,” Baldwin said. “I found myself comparing myself to the kids and wondered what I was like at that age. I finally came to the conclusion that I was worse.”
Baldwin also spent some time with Jerrod Theis and Lendell Shelite.
It’s players like Baldwin who make the Basketball Buddy program so successful, and Schartz feels that this year’s team was full of positive role models.
“They’re just so good with the kids,” she said of the Beavers. “Those guys just do such an excellent job with the kids. They’re real attached to the kids.”
It’s an attachment that is also felt by the college students.
“The Beaver basketball team enjoyed it far more than the kids,” Baldwin commented. “It’s a successful program and I look forward to visiting again next year.”