Men's Basketball Opens Doors to Army Neighbors
Head coach Bruce Weber and the team welcomed Fort Riley's 1-7 Field Artillery, its partner unit, to a special holiday clinic at the Basketball Training Facility.
"The first year we did it, we did it mainly for the soldiers' kids," explained Weber. "It gave them the opportunity to come out from post, meet the players and see the facilities. It's a nice experience for them, especially if they don't get to go anywhere for Christmas. This is a little holiday cheer for the kids to get to meet the players. Then, if they see a game on TV or get to come to one, they'll feel like they are a part of K-State basketball."
While the Holiday Clinic began as a means to get the 1-7 FA kids involved with Wildcat basketball, the event quickly grew.
"This is our third time, and now the soldiers started to come in with no kids and their shoes," laughed Weber as he glanced across the gym where a pick-up game among the soldiers had began. "We were surprised that they just want to come, get off base, shoot around and have some fun."
While the soldiers had the opportunity to play on the courts, the kids had the opportunity to learn new basketball skills from the Wildcat players.
Marcus Foster and Justin Edwards were at one goal teaching kids how to dribble the ball while Thomas Gipson and Brandon Bolden were on the other side of the gym teaching kids about rebounding. Nigel Johnson and Stephen Hurt were shooting free throws with the Army kids, and Wesley Iwundu and Nino Williams were showing a group how to do lay-ups.
Laughter filled the air as the players and kids spent the evening making new friends at the Basketball Training Facility.
"It's really fun because we know how much time they spend every day preparing to defend our country," said Williams, who is no stranger to the military lifestyle as his brother is a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. "We appreciate them coming out here. We went to Fort Riley earlier this year and did a couple things with them, so it's been a really good relationship. We just appreciate them for protecting us and letting us walk around with freedom. It's always fun to be around these kids and soldiers; it's just fun interacting with everybody."
While the men's basketball team hosted the event, Willie Wildcat and the K-State Cheer Squad were also in attendance to give the environment an added excitement. While Willie ran around and was up to his usual tricks, the cheerleaders dressed the children up with face paint and Wildcat tattoos.
"There's a lot more people than I thought would be, especially with the weather," said senior cheerleader Laura Pilney, "but there's a great turnout. These kids are so cute! They're just adorable. We have worked a lot with Fort Riley through cheer, and I really enjoy it."
With snow in the forecast on Wednesday evening, it wasn't just Pilney who worried that the weather would keep the soldiers at home. Weber and the team worried too, but 1st Sgt. Sean DeWitt, the company's main man when it comes to the partnership with program, knew better. He said his soldiers had weathered worse conditions than a little snow, and that nothing would keep them from spending the evening with the Wildcats.
And he was right.
Altogether, nearly 150 soldiers, spouses and children, showed up to the holiday clinic.
"I love it," said 1st Sgt. DeWitt. "I'm a K-State fan true and true. I've been doing this for quite a few years now and I enjoy doing it. I enjoy spending time with the players and also having my soldiers come out here and play with the players as well. It gives these guys a little bit of a break from the military life to come out here and just have a good time."
DeWitt said he is heading to Kansas City this weekend to watch the Wildcats take on Texas A&M at Sprint Center (click here for more info on the game), then, next month when the Wildcats host Texas Tech on Jan. 14, the 1-7 FA plans to bring nearly 500 soldiers to cheer on K-State.
"It's a great relationship that we have with the 1-7 FA," said Weber. "Our players went to Fort Riley earlier this year and had an unbelievable experience, and we may go over Christmas again. Then, at the Texas Tech game, the soldiers will all be there. It's a great interaction. It's a win-win for everybody. For them to feel like they have someone to cheer for while they're here in Kansas, for our guys to have the chance to experience the base and see what it's like to be a soldier and then we're hopefully helping the kids a little bit. There are a lot of positive things that come with this partnership."
Justin Edwards and Marcus Foster help kids learn how to dribble at the 1-7 FA Holiday Clinic in the Basketball Training Facility on December 17, 2014. (Photos by Bailey Bachamp)
Above right photos: 1. Thomas Gipson helps line kids up for drills, 2. Nino Williams lifts a child to the rim with Wesley Iwundu looking on, 3. Cheer senior Laura Pilney puts Wildcat washable tattoos on children's faces.