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Compassionate b-ball camp at Brock

By Allan Benner, The Standard

Gregory McPherson, left, with Brock women's basketball team head coach Ashley MacSporran, launching a week-long compassionate city basketball camp at the university, on Monday July 17, 2017. Allan Benner/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Gregory McPherson, left, with Brock women's basketball team head coach Ashley MacSporran, launching a week-long compassionate city basketball camp at the university, on Monday July 17, 2017. Allan Benner/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Ashley MacSporran welcomed an “amazing” child to the sports camp she was running at Brock University a year ago.

And she didn’t let Emi Gamble’s Down syndrome keep the eight-year-old from enjoying a game of basketball.

“We used a volleyball serving ring last year for a hoop for Emi who came to the camp for a few hours,” said MacSporran, Brock women’s basketball team head coach.

She said she reconfigured the net used for volleyball training, to use as an over-sized basketball hoop.

“We were creative and it worked for her last year,” she said. “We can do that again.”

Emi’s visit last summer inspired MacSporran to do even more to ensure that no one needs to be segregated when it comes to enjoying the sport.

Monday, the university opened its week-long #CompassionateSTC basketball camp for about 53 girls from eight to 13 years old, and it’s all about inclusion rather than segregation.

Among the camp participants are “eight of my amazing kids” who also have Down syndrome.

The girls will spend the week learning basketball skills and enjoying the game, regardless of their abilities.

“That’s the focus of this. We can cater the skills to any level,” she said. “Their abilities, it doesn’t really matter right now. The point is for them to come and have fun and learn the skills.”

Brock vice-president administration Brian Hutchings said the city’s #CompassionateSTC initiative “starts with dignity, respect and opportunity.”

“It’s all about, and it’s really important, compassion and understanding and making sure you understand others,” he said. “Making sure you can walk a mile in their shoes and understand what they’re going through.”

MacSporran said six members of her Badgers team volunteered to help coach the summer camp, along with two “possible recruits” from local high schools.

“They’re really excited about all the things we have planned for the kids, and they’ve taken off with a few ideas of their own,” she said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bunch of players so excited to do camp. This is great.”

Joining the assistant coaches is Gregory McPherson, who also has Down syndrome.

MacSporran said Gregory, whose sister Courtney McPherson is joining the Badgers women’s team next season, has already helped coach the team during a recent practice.

“I’m really excited to have Greg here, to give back to the program,” she said.

“I’m really thankful to have a platform to speak and be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, and hopefully challenge those in the Brock community and other communities to be more inclusive and more understanding.”

MacSporran has been considering starting a similar initiative, since before starting her job as head coach of Brock’s women’s basketball team in June, 2016.

She said her niece, who also has special needs, helped her understand how vital it is that children are accepted as they are.

“For people that aren’t dealing with that every day, they don’t understand what it’s like to be accepted in the classroom,” she said.

Although athletic programs for people with special needs “are great,” MacSporran said those programs do not address the issue of segregation, and “that’s why I felt this was really important.”

When St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik launched the #CompassionateSTC initiative with the help of JCI St. Catharines, McSporran said it gave her “a big platform to go underneath” to implement her ideas.

In a video-tapped message played for the basketball camp participants, Sendzik told members of the basketball camp that they will spend the week learning about more than just playing the game.

“You’re going to learn about a lot of life skills including being part of a compassionate community, and being part of compassionate team,” he said. “It’s all about building friendships and inclusivity.”

MacSporran said the #CompassionateSTC theme will continue for her team in the months to come.

In August, her said her team will participate in the YWCA Niagara Region’s No Fixed Address initiative, Aug. 11 and 12 at Pen Centre; and they’re planning an initiative to assist the Humane Society in September.

“It could be anything. This is just a taste of what they can do, and it doesn’t have to be on this big a scale,” she said.

“I really hope this is something I can challenge the university with, but then I can turn around and challenge the other OUA teams and CIS teams, and it can get bigger and better every year.”

ABenner@postmedia.com

 



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