Harrisonburg, Va., April 2, 2012-
James Madison athletes maintain busy academic and athletic schedules on a weekly basis, but sometimes a change from the ordinary routine is beneficial, which is exactly what occurred Monday when the men's basketball and softball teams participated in "Be a JMU Athlete," a program designed to provide athletics opportunities to children in the community.
Second-year men's basketball graduate assistant Patrick Massaroni is enrolled in a kinesiology masters class called special topics in physical education, which is led by Dr. Tom Moran, the director of Overcoming Barriers. The Overcoming Barriers organization hosts programs specifically created for children in the community who have disabilities and are unable to participate in physically appropriate activities with other recreational organizations.
"As a member of the class, it was one of the requirements to hold an event outside of the classroom setting for disabled children that also included JMU student-athletes," explained Massaroni. Monday's event was the first of its kind with the joint participation of the softball and men's basketball teams.
The event was hosted inside the Memorial Hall gymnasium, where the basketball team had three stations set up for the children to work on their passing, dribbling and shooting with members of the basketball team. Redshirt junior guard Devon Moore commented, "I thought the format with the stations and group games was fun, seeing the kids run around and get better at two sports."
Many of the children were also lifted into the air by the basketball players in order to reach the basketball hoops to practice their dunking skills, which appeared to be a highlight of the day, based on the smiles and squeals elicited by the children. "It was great seeing the kids' faces as the players lifted them up to the basket to dunk," said junior outfielder Jasmine Butler.
For the past two semesters, Butler has participated in a weekly softball-themed program through Overcoming Barriers, the same program that made it possible for Massaroni to host Monday's event. "I liked that other athletes participated and were able to give back to the same community that stands behind them in every game," Butler commented.
While the basketball players worked with children at the hoops, the softball team and mentors from Overcoming Barriers partnered with other children to improve their hitting and catching in the batting cages. "I love community relations events, being able to get to know the people who support the JMU community," Butler said. "Being able to display our appreciation is something I really enjoy."
Massaroni has hopes for the specific "Be a JMU Athlete" program to grow in the future, with the help of Dr. Moran and the Overcoming Barriers program. "The event on Monday exceeded all expectations," said Massaroni. "I definitely feel that all involved had a great time and everyone was able to learn from each other. "
Moore added, "I thought this event was great because we interacted with the softball team and the kids with disabilities. It is a great feeling to see the smiles on the kids' faces." Moore was encouraged by the children that he worked with and was reminded to be grateful for his opportunity to play basketball. The children in attendance at the program reminded him to not only work hard in his athletics endeavors, but to also be available to help children in athletics.
"Community service is taking time out of your day to help others," explained Massaroni. "It allows a group of people to do something out of the ordinary, something they would not have normally scheduled in their day to help others and allow for others to have an experience that they might never have." The JMU student-athletes who volunteered were able to provide the participants with opportunities that they do not have on a daily or weekly basis.
"A lot of children in the area look up to the JMU student-athletes and for the men's basketball team and softball team to take time out of their busy schedules showed how great the JMU athletes are," said Massaroni. In the midst of the planning, setting up and arrangements made for the event, according to Massaroni, the most satisfying part of the event was when a child asked the whole group at the end, "When can we do this again?"