‘More Than Xs and Bones:’ WMU Men’s Basketball Hosts Disability Camp
KALAMAZOO, MI — Smiles from ear to ear filled the West Michigan varsity arena on Wednesday as the Broncos men’s basketball team welcomed 40 people with disabilities to a Court of Dreams event , during which attendees learned the ropes of Division I athletes.
Hosted by the Beautiful Lives Project, a New York-based nonprofit, the hour-long session included drills focused on shooting, passing, dribbling and defending, before ending with each receiving participant of a basketball signed by the players of the WMU.
“It was just a great experience, especially on a personal level because my nephew has autism, so I feel like I can do well with the kids here,” junior Titus Wright said. “It was just a great environment – the kids were having fun and everyone was smiling and laughing. It’s basketball, and just the fact that we could share that with the community and help out a group, it was simply wonderful.
Wright, along with fellow forward Owen Lobsinger and assistant coach Jeff Rutter, ran the defensive station, and while playing lockdown defense isn’t always the most fun part of a basketball camp, the trio’s energy had the campers shuffling their feet and waving their hands. in the air before long.
“We had a few kids where it was hard for them to step out of their comfort zone and a few kids who had 10 toes,” Wright said. “It was just fun to see how the kids react to things and do things differently like we do and just have fun. It was a great time to be out there on defense, and I think everyone everyone enjoyed playing defense, even if it’s not the most glorious part of the game.
Co-founded in 2017 by Bryce Weiler, a blind sportscaster, the Beautiful Lives project aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities through means such as sport, visual and performing arts, nature and vocational training.
Weiler received first-hand experience of the importance of such events in the life of a disabled person when he received an invitation from former University of Evansville men’s basketball coach Marty Simmons , to sit on the bench for the Purple Aces during his time as a student at the Indiana-based school from 2010 to 2014.
“This opportunity has changed my life and that’s why I’m now giving back with the Beautiful Lives project to help people with disabilities live their dreams,” Weiler said.
On Wednesday, the 40 participants honed their basketball skills, but that was only a small part of the equation.
“They will learn basketball skills, but most importantly, they will befriend the players, coaches and other people with disabilities who are participating in this event,” Weiler said.
A friend of former WMU men’s basketball coach Steve Hawkins, Weiler knew about the Broncos, but didn’t think of including Kalamazoo as one of his Beautiful Lives stages until he was in drive to East Lansing, where he helped organize a Michigan Disabled Football Clinic.
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“I didn’t know the train had stopped in Kalamazoo, but when I went to do an event with Michigan State football, I found out, and once they set up email from Dwayne Stephens, I emailed him,” Weiler said. “I knew Coach Stephens was working with Coach (Tom) Izzo, who is a friend of mine, and Coach Stephens is really keen on giving back to others.”
A longtime assistant to Izzo at Michigan State, Stephens spoke about the importance of giving back to the community during his introductory press conference on April 6, which made the organization of the Wednesday’s Court of Dreams event a “no-brainer”.
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“I talked about me and my team being in the community when I took on the role, and that’s the first of many things we’d like to do to give back and use our platform to help others,” said Stephens said. “It was amazing today to get to see these kids with huge smiles on their faces here on the Bronco field and having a lot of fun.”
Stephens said he would like to hold a Beautiful Lives Project event every year inside the University Arena, noting that the experience not only brings smiles to the faces of the campers, but also to his players, noting the relationship between former Michigan State basketball player Adreian Payne and Lacey Holsworth, who met while the young Spartan fan was in hospital battling cancer.
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“For me, being at Michigan State, I got to see the impact that Adreian Payne had on Lacey Holsworth, and I can only hope my players have similar experiences with people who come supporting us, and that’s just our way of giving back and our way of connecting with our community,” Stephens said. “I look at my guys, and as a head coach here, I think it’s about my responsibility to give these guys memory makers, and for me, that’s a memory maker.
“I hope those guys benefited from seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces. It’s more than X’s and O’s. It’s about making memories, and we hope to make memories with events like this, but also by winning championships.