March 15, 2013

North Georgia Student-Athletes Share Love of Sports with Elementary School Students

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – For many great athletes, their passion for sports started in with someone who had succeeded at a particular sport sharing their love of the game. Perhaps that will be the case at Sardis Enrichment School following a pair of visits by several University of North Georgia student-athletes.

Over the past two weeks, members of the North Georgia soccer and tennis programs have visited Sardis Enrichment School located in Gainesville, Ga. where they have shared their love for sports with the students there as part of the school's "enrichment clusters." The clusters are part of the school's new charter status that Brad Pelham, the school's special education teacher and 2006 graduate of North Georgia with a Master's in Education, has been instrumental in helping with.

"Over the last four years, we have been become a charter school, and part of that is doing enriching activities outside the normal curriculum to engage the students in what they want to learn about," said Pelham. "It's all student-based with each cluster learning something different. The different clusters will then present at our annual, school-wide 'Cluster Extravaganza' on March 28."

The students at the school are divided up by grade into groups of 12, or "enrichment clusters" as they are called. Each cluster then picks and chooses what new skills, sports or topics they wish to learn about during a period set aside each week of the program.

The cluster that North Georgia soccer and tennis players visited over the past couple of weeks chose to learn soccer and tennis as two of their physical activities after having chosen football, basketball and baseball last year.

On Thursday, Feb. 28, Jamie Gleeson, Tyler Daly and Irving Salgado from the men's soccer team as well as Julianna Luther and Sophia Matonak from the women's program visited Pelham's cluster at the school.

The five Saints worked with a cluster of 11 students and spent time teaching the fundamentals of dribbling and shooting the ball while taking the students through several drills. The five were then able to organize a couple quick games that put the kids' new-found skills to the test.

Sierra, a first grader in the group said, "We had fun! Sharks and minnows was my favorite," following the soccer cluster.

"The elementary school experience was very enjoyable," Matonak said. "We played soccer with the children and created a fun environment for them to learn something new and different. It was encouraging to see so many of the children engaged in the activity and it was also rewarding to see all the smiles on their faces." 

Then, on Thursday, Mar. 7, tennis players Sam Gantt, Nela Handac and Mallory Kolts visited the school with tennis rackets in hand. Despite some wet conditions on the courts, the cluster once again jumped into action as the trio of Saints worked with the kids teaching stances, how to hold the racket as well as the different strokes.

"I like playing tennis," said Ryan, another first grader at Sardis. "We practiced throwing the ball up and hitting it. It was really cool!"

"I had a fantastic time working with the kids at Sardis Elementary," said Gantt. "The kids were eager to learn tennis and it is rewarding to know we can make an impact in our local community by teaching a sport we have come to admire."

In the short time that the student-athletes were able to spend with the kids of Sardis Enrichment School, friendships were created, contagious smiles were shared and a fun learning environment was created. And, perhaps, one of those students will continue to learn, practice and master the sport that a North Georgia student-athlete shared with them before sharing that same passion with someone else some day.

"The student-athletes were great with the kids and everybody had a really fun time," stated Pelham. "(The North Georgia student-athletes) were amazing and did a fabulous job making learning fun; they came in and had great ideas for teaching their different sports and went far beyond what I thought we would accomplish in that time. They encouraged the students to do their best and show good sportsmanship throughout."

"It was really fun to be able to go and hang out with the kids while sharing a game that we all love," said Gleeson. "I know, personally, that if a college player had come to my school and kicked around with me while sharing some of their knowledge when I was younger, I would have thought it was the greatest thing in the world. It was great to be able to hand down my love of the game to the kids because they're young and haven't reached that age yet where they know what they want to do. But if someone comes and shares their passion for something, maybe it will help them choose to pick up the game and work at it."