Valparaiso University’s (VU) men’s and women’s basketball teams tipped-off the new season working with children today at the Hammond Civic Center. The Crusader Hoops in Hammond event brought students from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana’s Hammond and Gary locations to the court to play with and learn some tips and tricks from the Division 1 college athletes.
The partnership between VU and The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana has been especially active this year since the creation of the Valpo Athletics Young Crusaders Club. From providing opportunities for Boys & Girls Club students to be the ball boys and girls at various VU games, offering free game tickets to the students, to events like today, the partnership is working hard to expand their students’ horizons.
“It’s a great partnership with two totally different age groups come together. It’s awesome to see the college athletes interact with the kids. To see them out here and giving up a day is great,” said Stephanie Hamilton, Director of Branding at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana.
Events such as these are a great way for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana to engage their students and allow them to see opportunities that are available through college athletics.
“We do a lot of college readiness programs and we want to make sure that kids are ready for whatever their future holds, whether they go to college or not,” said Hamilton. “It’s great for our young kids to get to meet some of the Crusaders and see that they can be like them and go to a university. It’s closing that gap between what they’re dreaming about and showing them that it can be a reality.”
Today was also an excellent way for the VU student-athletes to give back and serve by working with the children who attended.
“I’m looking forward to being able to help and impact the kids that come back by being a positive bright light in their lives. This opportunity is something to be grateful for - to come out and visit with these children and let them have fun,” said Addison Stoller, a Junior at VU and player on the women’s team.
“This is a way for us to interact with the community and have fun with them, show them that we work hard on the court but like to have fun as well. We give our time up to kids and all sorts, and we love doing it,” said Ryan Fazekas, Senior at VU and player on the men’s team.
Being able to learn from the student-athletes is a unique experience and the students enjoyed their time with each other. Interacting with the athletes showed the boys & girls that the athletes they’ve seen on the court are regular humans who were once kids, like themselves, and maybe they can go to college and be Division 1 athletes themselves.
“Anytime we can put our young people into the community is really important,” said Mary Evans, Women’s Head Coach. “There’s a lot of young kids out there looking for role models and to put our student-athletes out here for them to see as people who were once in their shoes and have found success and are in college is great.”
“It’s always fun to see the athletes in a different setting, like this one. The relationships that are built between our players and the students are fun to see,” said Brandon Vickrey, Assistant Director of Athletics and Media Relations at VU.
“We love to partner with the community and get involved with the kids and get them engaged with the team. We want them to get to know the players as people because they all have their own unique story and experience in what brought them to Valpo to play Division 1,” said Lexi Nichols Assistant Director of Marketing for Athletics.
VU’s athletic department is hard at work to be Northwest Indiana’s favorite Division 1 team and coming to the Hammond Civic Center was another step in making their presence known to a greater audience.
“One of the objectives that we want as an athletic department is to feel like the Region’s Division 1 team. In order for us to do that we need to reach out to the community with events like this. We have guys who are from NWI and who’ve spent a lot of time at the Hammond Civic Center, so it’s special for us to give back to the community and be here today,” said Matt Lottich, Men’s Basketball Head Coach.
“We’re trying to get out in the Lake County community to expand our audience and engage with our fans here, get them out to meet the team and get to know the players, and hopefully get them to come out to a game this year,” said Nichols.
It was clear that the VU students made some new fans as the kids hurried around the court, seeking autographs from the players. Having a chance to play and learn from the student-athletes gave them a unique perspective on what their futures could be. Julian Rainey, who attended today’s event, seemed ready to join the team right now.
“My favorite part about today was practicing layups and shooting on the rims. You know, I can shoot. One of them said they could dunk on me, but I don’t believe that,” said Rainey.
Today’s event showed just how important the partnership between VU and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana is to the future generation of student-athletes. Who knows how many of the youth reached today will go on to become a Crusader in the not-too-distant future?
“It’s nice to see VU help us develop the next generation,” said Hamilton.
For more information on VU, visit their website: www.valpo.edu
For more information on the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana or to find your local Club visit their website here: https://www.bgcgreaternwi.org/