THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL The word ‘team’ by its very nature implies inclusion and a joining together of a group of individuals. The Challenger League basketball program in Russell goes above and beyond this concept by reaching out to those students who might not otherwise be able to be included in the sport.
Amy McGuire, the special education director for Russell Independent Schools, said that they began two years ago with Challenger Baseball League, and that program was very successful.
“We just wanted to give kids a chance to play who might not be able to play in a typical setting,” McGuire said.
McGuire said the basketball program was an idea that originated with Paul Pack. Pack, McGuire said, runs the Marv Meredith League (open for students grade 3-8 in Russell) and really wanted to get a challenger league going for basketball. The Challenger league forbasketball currently has around 25 students involved, but McGuire looks forward to that number growing.
“Since there are no other Challenger Leagues for basketball in the area, we are open to kids from Carter County, Ashland, Fairview, Boyd County, and Greenup,” McGuire said.
Russell Head Basketball Coach Brian Groves said his Varsity and Junior Varsity players enjoy being involved in the league as well.
“My guys assist with all the training and we play a game,” Groves said. “We try our best that every kid scores every day, and we have seen a lot of improvement. We like to teach rebounding and everything that goes on in a conventional game whenever possible. We want them to be successful, and when they are dribbling down the floor and the fans are cheering them on, then that fuels the sense of accomplishment and enjoyment of the game.”
McGuire and Groves both said that the hands on approach, and the pairing of conventional athletes with athletes who have special needs, has yielded results that go beyond the considerable enjoyment found on the court. McGuire pointed out that some students with special needs can also have social issues and problems interacting with others – and the Challenger League helps them in overcoming those issues. Groves said that the league has also helped his athletes by encouraging them to reach out and take the extra social step themselves.
“The great thing about it is that we have formed some really great bonds here,” McGuire said.
“It’s a great opportunity, and a great program to be involved in,” Groves said. “I have athletes volunteering, and adults who might not even have students in school at the time volunteering. When Paul (Pack) mentioned the Challenger league to me, my only answer was that I wanted my guys involved.
And they love it, and look forward to it as much as they do their own games.”
Anyone interested in becoming part of the Challenger league can reach either McGuire or Groves through the Russell school website. Games are scheduled for Saturday and March 3 at 9 a.m. at Russell Primary.
FAR LEFT: Will Christian is lifted up by Russell varsity coach Brian Groves for a dunk during a Challenger League game.
NEXT: Leland Martin lines up a shot.
NEXT: Caleb Caines pumps his fist during a game.
FAR RIGHT: Will Christian and his brother lock arms during a Russell Challenger League game.
ALL PHOTOS BY HANNAH BLAINE, RHS SENIOR.