Feb. 25, 2011
Each Wednesday throughout the winter quarter, members of the football team, along with UCLA Head Athletic Performance Coach Mike Linn will visit Palms Middle School to participate in The Prime Time Games. The Prime Time Games is a full-inclusion sports program wherein at-risk middle school students from the Team Prime Time After School Program coach, mentor and play alongside young athletes with special needs, including autism and Down syndrome.
"This sports mentorship program brings together low income and special needs students, and provides a unique experience for our athletes," said Linn. "Different than most community service opportunities, this after-school program allows mentor-to-mentor interaction as well as an inclusive environment for the special needs participants.
"The goal at UCLA has always been to build the complete student-athlete; in the classroom, on the field and in the community. This is especially true with football, where player development should be as much about building character as it is improving physical abilities."
This week's visit was special for one student, Matthew, who is hearing impaired and wears hearing aids like Derrick Coleman. Matthew spoke more with Derrick than with anyone else in the year-plus time he's been in our program.
On Wednesday I was able to visit Palm Middle School along with Coach Linn and my teammates Taylor Embree, Joseph Fauria, Tre Hale, and Derrick Coleman. We started the afternoon with some introductions and allowed some of the students, who would be coaches for the day, to ask us questions. Joe introduced the word of the day, which was 'responsibility,', and made sure that the students knew what the word meant and how it could be applied to this time with the athletes.
As we waited for the athletes to arrive, I was able to meet Jeff Gaskin, a senior at Palisades High School, who helped set up the portion of Team Primetime where current high school students are able to come out and volunteer. I wish there had been these opportunities at my high school to take part in such a meaningful form of community service. He has been accepted to four colleges and is waiting for a couple more letters to come in, so I made sure to wish him luck. Any school would be lucky to have a student that was able to contribute to a program like this. As the athletes arrived, we welcomed them with high-five lines and then broke up into groups for soccer and basketball. To mark the beginning of the day, one of the athletes named Harrison led a chant to pump up the group. Taylor, Joe, Tre, and Derrick were assigned to each of the four teams while I was able to stay on one court and help out when needed.
The first athlete that really stood out was Tim Waller, who was all over the court the entire game. He could dribble, rebound, shoot, play the post, and he refused to come off the court. Also on the Heat alongside Tim were athletes Brandon, Connor, and Casey. Brandon was my hustle guy, always moving up and down the court, making sure to get back on defense. He also had some of the most acrobatic shots that I have ever seen. It took a little while for Connor to get into the game, but he soon found his spot on the floor, and was not afraid to call for the ball and make his presence known. He was also the ultimate team player, coming off the bench with some good energy. Like Connor, Casey was a little bit timid at first, but he soon let his true skills shine through, stealing the ball from the other team almost every possession.
On the other team, led by Taylor, were athletes Jacob, Joe, Harrison, and Blake. I was also able to work with three of the Palms Middle School students on this team, Charles, Ben, and Warren. As Kevin Prince mentioned in a previous blog, Blake has created his own comic strip, called the "Rotten Family," and Blake brought some of his work with him, which blew me away. Blake also had the play of the day, in my opinion, which was a spin move in the lane and a quick finish in front of the basket. Joe, who is 6'6, was able to get in the game with the help of Charles and Ben. I approached Charles, Ben, and Warren at halftime to try and help them engage with the athletes while also applying the word of the day. Charles and Ben needed to try and dribble up the court and find Joe in the paint for a close range attempt. Warren needed to work with Harrison as a dynamic duo, trying to pass to one another up the court rather than just trying to dribble on their own. I was very excited when the students were able to put these plans into action, utilizing the word 'responsibility' at the same time.
I really felt like the time with the students and athletes went by too fast. The hour and a half we had with them felt like only thirty minutes. This experience, my second with Peter Straus and Team Primetime, helped me to realize the impact that we can have on these kids' lives just by interacting with them for a short period of time. Not only did this experience helps the kids, it also helped to open my eyes as to how influential we as UCLA athletes can be in the lives of others. I hope that I get many other opportunities to work with Team Primetime and I am sure my teammates who have attended feel the same.