Warriors clinics teaches teens drills and skills off the court
By Lou Fancher
Freedom High School student Hailey Swank likes dribbling best. If the 18-year-old senior played for the Golden State Warriors, she’d “go for three-pointers and try hard.” Playing sports makes her feel strong, powerful, capable.
At a recent Warriors Unified Clinic hosted by the NBA team in partnership with Special Olympics Northern California at the Oakley school, Swank is bold: shooting, passing, rebounding, making layups. While building camaraderie with teammates, the clinic offered Swank and approximately 170 other students with and without disabilities an opportunity to participate in practice drills and games. Two unified teams selected from the clinic competed at Oracle Arena during the Warriors home game later that evening.
Former Warriors center Adonal Foyle and the Warriors Youth Basketball staff with Senior Director Jeff Addiego led students from Freedom, Heritage High School, Deer Valley, Pittsburg, Acalanes, El Cerrito High, Dublin and Montgomery high schools.
Swank’s mother, Rochelle Sikes, says her daughter has mild lissencephaly, a rare, “smooth brain” condition that results in a spectrum of physical and developmental delays, so she appreciates the responsibility handed to students during the clinics. Launched at Freedom in 2014 by then-athletic coach Steve Amaro, the after-school initiative was at the forefront of a movement to integrate special and general education students in public school sports programs.
“For Hailey, clinics help her learn teamwork and better communication without the help of an adult. Students have their own voice and make their own decisions. It’s more real world,” Sikes says.
Addiego hears from participating schools that unified programs in all sports build relationships.
“These can be groups that don’t mix or mingle. I’m learning now that programs are turning away general ed students who want to participate. That’s a good problem to have because it means awareness is rising. Students see value in the friendships and the impact they can have on each other.”
Addiego highlights not just students’ discoveries, but adult learning resulting from the clinics. “From the high school coaches, I and my staff learn things like what skills suit a specific group of students. Each time we go back, they surprise us by exceeding what we expect.”
Having directed hundreds of camps for a variety of youth populations, Addiego’s favorite aspect of the unified teams is energy the he says is unparalleled.
Likewise, Freedom general ed student Fanta Jimissa, 15, says unprecedented excitement generated by the sight of the Warriors jerseys that each player receives was a tipping point.
“In the beginning, when you go in, they had them laid out. Everyone having the same logo — from that moment we were all just a part of a bigger thing.”
Jimissa, a varsity basketball team member, appreciates that the unified clinics expand her high school experience. “It makes me happy because I like to be involved in school community. By joining with special ed athletes, I’m a part of them. I also appreciate basketball more. In the clinic, I gained more love for it.”
There’s nothing but love for basketball — and working with youth — in a conversation or an encounter with Foyle.
“You can see a kid in a wheelchair and a more mobile kid, but when they get a rebound and get the ball in, the look is priceless. And it’s just the same. We’re all just trying to get this little rubber ball into the hoop.”
Foyle says the most common questions students ask are about his “mere size 16 to 17 feet,” how his hands grew so big, his 13-year NBA career (10 years with the Warriors; three with the Orlando Magic), and does he know Steph Curry and plan to bring him to a camp. Foyle, after retirement from basketball, went on to earn a master’s degree from JFK University and is a published author, national speaker, and Community Ambassador for the Warriors.
At the clinics, he tells kids about times he felt awkward because his 6-foot-10 body grew quickly.
“I never fit into the sports I tried. I felt terrible. My control wasn’t good. But we all have challenges. What makes us special is finding our purpose. We just want to be a part of the game, more than anything else.”
Basketball unifies that desire — for players and coaches.
“Most of the teachers have been around integrated sports for longer than I have,” Foyle says. “I get information about how to bring a kid back in when they pull away; to make it about fun, not about being perfect.”
Because he views the students as future leaders in integrated athletics, families, workplaces and more, Foyle shares a unifying message to go along with the nuts-and-bolts skills drills.
“I always tell kids they have power to do something if they see something that’s not right. They have everything to be amazing. Leadership is what you do when no one is looking. You can make the choice every day to engage, be nice, make the world a better place for the person next to you. We have to be of service to others because that’s how we all survive.”