The Gillette College basketball teams continued a tradition this season of players and coaches visiting Paintbrush Elementary School to play games, answer questions, throw a pigskin around a little and be positive mentors for local kids.
Tyler Neary, a Pronghorns red shirt freshman and a Paintbrush student 10 years ago, played kickball with the kids in the outdoor recess area. The students tried to impress their older playmate with their athletic skills in the snow while Neary remembered when he was the small fry in awe of the college athletes.
“I remember being in fifth or sixth grade and having the guys come in. It was always the best part of the day and I always looked forward to it,” Neary said. “It’s kind of like full circle now where I’m getting to come back and see these kids and go out to the playground where I used to run around.”
Earlier in the day Friday, Gillette College women’s team members Sydney Prather, Molly Coleman and Teila McInerney were the focus of a class of fourth graders who were sitting attentively cross-legged in front of them. The players answered many questions that the fourth graders had about college, basketball and Australia.
The students had been learning about the ongoing wildfires and crisis in Australia and Coleman, who hails from Adelaide, Australia, answered questions about her native country.
“What’s the most dangerous animal you have in Australia?” one student asked.
“We’ve got a lot of dangerous animals,” Coleman answered in an Australian accent the kids loved.
“We’ve got spiders and snakes and sharks and jellyfish and octopus, stingrays, and dingos,” she said.
At the mention of “dingos,” the young crowd erupted as the students debated themselves about what was truly the most dangerous animal in the Outback.
Then the conversation got more serious as one student asked earnestly, “Have you ever seen an Australian wildfire?”
Coleman said she had seen one from a distance when she used to live there, then told them about the large-scale wildfires happening now in Australia and how people and wildlife are in danger.
“There’s lots of animals getting hurt,” Coleman said. “Our koalas live in the eucalyptus trees and all the trees are getting burnt down so they have nowhere to live.”
Coleman and teammate Kobe King-Hawea are the two Australians on the Gillette College basketball team. Each said they know family friends who have been affected by the fires, but no immediate family have yet had to evacuate.
Other Pronghorn student-athletes played games and talked to kids in their half-hour shift at the school.
Mason Archambault, the men’s team’s sophomore point guard, and freshman teammate Joe Jones threw a football around with others who were eager to show off their elusiveness as the group of 9-year-olds tried to catch up to them.
The two put in so much effort that after one risky Archambault catch and slide through the snow, assistant coach Estevan Sandoval‘s eyes got wide and he shouted half-jokingly, “Please don’t hurt my point guard.”
Archambault said the trip to Paintbrush was his eighth visit to a Gillette elementary school.
“I just like playing with the kids and getting them to come to our games,” Archambault said about why he’s gone that many times.
Jones, a St. Louis, Missouri, native, said it’s a way to pay it forward for similar efforts older students did for him when he was younger.
“Older kids used to do the same thing to me when I was younger, so it’s just fun giving back and just helping them out, playing with them,” he said.
Gillette College coaches said they are trying to visit the fourth grade classes of every elementary school in the city. After a visit, the Pronghorns invite kids and their families to their next home games with free admission.
Many fourth graders did show up at the Pronghorn Center on Saturday to see both teams defeat Central Wyoming College.
“It is a welcome break in the day and the kids are excited to be able to talk to them about going to college and see kids who are actual college students,” fourth grade teacher Christina Handran said. “And hopefully it gets more people at their games too.”