Players a Big Hit With Youngsters

By MICHELLE MOYA

What began as a search for ballgirls to help out at Colorado College womenís basketball games has grown into one of the most innovative programs changing the face of education in Colorado Springs.

Last year, Brinnon Garrett, a center on the team, went to the schoolís Community Service office to see if she could get some ideas on recruiting ballgirls. She was sent to LouAnn Dekleva, volunteer services coordinator for School District 11.

Dekleva and Joe Madril, assistant principal at Monroe Elementary, had already been working on developing partnerships with the local community.

So Madril, Garrett and Dekleva began talking about "how they could take the fifth-grade girls, and by giving them some goals and objectives," Madril said, cause them to think about the idea that "thereís more to school than just showing up."

Out of these talks grew a program in which members of the CC womenís basketball team tutor and serve as mentors to fifth-graders who, in turn, act as ballgirls during the CC womenís basketball games.

The mentoring program is especially valuable, Madril said, because elementary school is the ideal place to begin teaching the concept of goals and objectives. "Once you get to the middle schools itís difficult to backtrack and set goals," he said.

By introducing these ideas in elementary school, Madril said, "we get the girls prepared."

Garrett agrees. "I think itís important to go into middle school with confidence," she said.

"They need to find confidence and, I think, inspiration from older people ó not just teachers and parents but kids whose success has come from hard work. I think if they have that to look up to, then the transition to middle school will be a lot easier."

Coach Debra Hunter supports the partnership, which she said, "crosses all barriers. Someone gave to these young women to get them where they are, and itís just our way of giving back."

The student population at CC is a real conglomeration of the country, said Hunter. Mentoring these students gives the players a chance to invest in the community of Colorado Springs.

The 21 fifth-graders in the program outnumber the CC women basketball players. So while the chance to participate as a ballgirl comes far too infrequently for the impatient youngsters, there is ample opportunity for one-on-one time with the players.

They talk about leadership, friendship, and get positive reinforcement from girls who arenít "old like we are," Madril said.

Once a month, the girls and the players get together at CC. Garrett says she and the team attempt to "incorporate fun and being active" while at the same time getting the younger girls to think about questions like what makes a good role model, what makes a good leader, what are high-risk behaviors ó and how they can be avoided.

This interaction, Madril said, allows the fifth-grade girls "to see how with perseverance you can achieve what you want to."

Coach Hunter hopes the program is giving the fifth-graders the positive role models they discuss.

"There are very few female heroes," Hunter said. "Weíre getting better at it, but this may be as close as those kids will get to touching some of them."

Because the CC basketball players "are not considered super-adults, they can play both roles," Madril said. They can be friend and mentor. They can encourage and challenge the younger girls while maintaining somewhat of a peer relationship.

This article by Michelle Moya is reprinted with permission of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

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