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Adopt an Athlete

Basketball player bonds with fourth grade class

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When junior Jordan Richard came​ ​into​ ​the​ ​room​ ​on​ ​Thursday​ ​morning​ ​the elementary​ ​kids​ ​eyes​ ​lit​ ​up​ ​and​—​as​ ​if​ ​it​ ​were​ ​rehearsed​—​all yelled​ ​out​ ​his​ ​name​ ​with​ ​excitement. The kids ran to the gym filled with sugar from the donuts Richard had bought for the class, ready to play with their high school athlete. Before their teacher settled them down around the net, the kids were running around the court with Richard.

Without the obvious size difference, the energy that Richard bought to the room made it easy to mistake this 17 year old for just one of the kids. The fourth graders all sat down around the basket watching the older student in anticipation, waiting to see what the varsity basketball player could do. Richard dribbled down the court ready to shoot the first basket of the morning. Everyone in the room held their breath as the ball flew towards the basket. It completely miss the hoop. Laughter filled the gym as the varsity player’s head hung low from embarrassment. Even though the varsity shooting guard missed, the kids watched him with respect and praise.

Richard was at the school for Adopt an Athlete, a program that allows varsity athletes to play with an elementary school class once a week for their sports season. Richard and the rest of varsity basketball began working with the program Feb. 2. The varsity players are split up and sent to different classes at the feeder elementary schools every Thursday.

Richard heads up to Heritage Elementary School at 7:45 a.m. Every week they choose different games to play with their class. So far, Richard and the kids have played a spelling game, Just Dance, and a short game of basketball. On some mornings, they play outside on the school’s playground.

“[The athletes] are so much bigger than [the elementary students],” Head Varsity boy’s basketball Coach Clay Cody said. “They are almost like professional players for those kids.”

I just know how the kids feel, and how happy they get to see me every week. When I was their age I felt the same way.”

— Jordan Richard, 11

Richard remembers how much he looked up to his Adopt an Athlete as an elementary schooler at Heritage and said it was a lot of fun to go back to his school and be a part of a program he loved.
He remembers how much he looked up to his adopted athlete, a varsity football player, and how his athlete made him feel special. Now, he sees how much the kids look up to him.

“I just know how the kids feel, and how happy they get to see me every week,” Richard said. “When I was their age I felt the same way.”

Richard thinks having a role model when children are young is important, and being able to have an older student to hang out with every week is uplifting for some kids.

“I know they look up to me,” Richard said. “Not just to me, but to the whole basketball team.”

This program doesn’t only allow kids to play games with older athletes, but Coach Cody believes it can build teamwork and good sportsmanship in the elementary school students.

Richard’s younger cousin is in the fourth grade class he visits. Now he not only looks up to Richard at home but also gets to see him as a role model in school. Richard and Coach Cody believe that it is a responsibility for athletes to set the right example for the younger students.

However, basketball season is over, and with the end of a season comes the end of Richard’s time in Adopt an Athlete.

As Richard was leaving the class for the final time this season, the fourth grade students all gave him personalized goodbye letters. One of his letters said, “Later Alligator, we will miss you, and you’re amazing.”

Richard is excited to continue with this program, but since he won’t have the same kids next year, Richard said that saying goodbye to the fourth graders was hard.

“These kids now have someone to look up to, to strive for,” Cody said. “Sometimes we don’t realize that in high school the younger kids do look up to them. It’s good to have a role model that is someone they want to be like.”

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Adopt an Athlete