Women's Hoopster's Assist on the Court and in the Community

Dec. 21, 2004

Providence, RI - In any sport, the easiest measure of a team's success is by its record. By this standard, the women's basketball team has done quite well in the past two years, amassing two second-place Ivy League finishes and averaging over 15 wins.

The success of the women's basketball team on the court has earned them many fans, but some fans have come from the team's efforts off the court. At the Bears' games in the Pizzitola Sports Center, second graders from the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point can be found in the stands cheering on their favorite classroom tutors.

As has been the case with nearly every team Brown Head Coach Jean Marie Burr has been associated with, the Bears are involved in a wide array of volunteer activities. In the past year the team has participated in a cancer walk to help raise money for Leukemia research and held several basketball clinics for younger players. Throughout the year, players volunteer on a weekly basis with kids at the Fox Point School.

"We drop in to the classroom whenever we want and help out with what they are doing; math, crafts, spelling, or reading," said Holly Robertson '05.

Even during the season with the team's rigorous schedule, the players still make it to class to see their biggest fans.

"I've definitely recognized a few kids in the stands with their families" Robertson said. "When we go into their school the next week they say to us `Hey, I saw you get a basket in."

Many of the players seem to benefit from the relationship just as much as the kids do. "We don't think of it as a commitment - it's something we're used to doing," said Sandra Idehen '05, whose experience with the second graders has helped her put things in perspective. "Any time you get down and aren't playing well, when you leave the basketball setting and go to see them, it helps solidify why you do what you do."

Burr recognizes that basketball is only one facet of her players' lives. She believes an integral part of what makes her team so successful is the athletic and academic opportunity that attracts prospective student athletes to Brown.

"Any student is fortunate to have the opportunity they have in front of them," said Burr. "We are focused to getting these student athletes exposed to other students in the community."

Her student athletes split their time between studying and playing, not to mention tutoring and coaching. Throughout the year, the team puts on several basketball clinics for local teams. Last month the team held a clinic at Burr's former middle school in Coventry. The clinics are a nice chance for the players to switch roles and teach the game they love to kids who are more than willing to learn," said Burr.

"For myself, I didn't start playing basketball until high school and if I had gotten a foundation like we give these kids, it would have helped me in the long term," Idehen said. "These kid are trying to learn and I want to give a hand to help them."

Burr, who was a standout player at New Hampshire and also played professionally for the New Jersey Gems of the Women's Basketball League, knows the value of good basketball players serving as coaches. She also recognizes that the quality character of her players helps in the teaching process.

"We'll never know the impact that our players have on some of the kids," Burr said. "We have a lot of talent in a pretty popular game. The clinics are real quality time."

Even when the Bears hit the road for tournaments, they find some time to impart their basketball knowledge to aspiring college players. Last year during winter break, the team traveled down to Birmingham, Alabama to play in the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Lady Blazer Invitational. While there, the Bears held a clinic at the former high school of Nyema Mitchell '04.

With the Bears winning two early season tournaments, the Time-Warner Classic and Brown Classic, the team chemistry that Burr preaches is apparent. In fact, Brown is off to its best start since the 1991-92 season. While the second graders watch from the stands, the Bears hope to win their sixth Ivy Championship. Regardless of the Bears record this year, they will continue to earn new fans.

Written by Ian Cropp `05, Brown Daily Herald