The UC Davis men’s basketball team’s mission is to not only succeed on the court, but to give back to the community as well. As student-athletes, the Aggies feel an obligation to use their prestige as competitors to push the importance of being academically successful. They achieve this by way of the UC Davis Men’s Basketball Reading Program, an initiative where the team speaks to young students about what it takes to get into college and the importance of school for their futures. This year marks this programs third season.
“We thought it was a good way to reach back to the community,” said assistant coach and program organizer Chris Davis. “We have 31 schools involved and over 18,000 students. It’s a really good program [and] a great opportunity for us to showcase what UC Davis has to offer.”
The logistics of a collegiate team, especially one as successful as the Aggies, make it hard to dedicate much time during the actual season.
“[Instead, the Aggies], try to get to as many schools in the fall and spring as possible… [and] we invite everyone to come to the games,” said Davis.
A school that has been on board with the reading program since its inception, the Sierra Enterprise Elementary School from the Elk Grove Unified School District most recently went through the experience as part of a “Career to College” trip. A mix of fifth and sixth grade students made their way on a short trip around the UC Davis campus before they headed to the Pavilion to speak with players and watch the game against Hawai’i on Feb. 21.
“We want them excited about college,” said principal Patricia Hecht. “That’s our main purpose, to get them on campus.”
After walking past the dorms, the baseball field and eating at the Dining Commons, the students met two basketball players and three dancers an hour before the game began. These athletes gave a broad range of advice and answered questions from the rapt children, covering topics such as the academics required to get into UC Davis, whether or not it is difficult living without a television, if it was hard to meet new people and make new friends and how to manage time as a student-athlete. They gave the overall impression that although college is indeed tough, it is important for their future and is a fun new experience.
After a few minutes of questions and answers, the speakers received an enthusiastic “Thank You!” and the students were given autographed pictures and small trinkets to take home with them.
“When they visit us they talk about character traits that you need to be a great person,” said Hecht.
UC Davis players also provide a small basketball demonstration for the kids and take pictures with the younger students.
The students of the Sierra Enterprise Elementary School keep close tabs on the team and players throughout the season. From the Athletic Department they receive bios for each player, team updates, pictures and even videos from the games, and they keep the Aggies’ standings on a whiteboard in their classroom.
After seeing a game firsthand, the kids are excited to return and keep up to date on the team. They maintain high hopes for the remainder of the Aggies’ season, and hope to put UC Davis on their bracket for March Madness.
But perhaps most important are the lessons that the students learn from watching the team over an extended period of time.
“Our kids are mostly children coming up in poverty, and sometimes they lose sight of the day to day struggle,” said Hecht. “They see that hard work pays off. [As with the success of UC Davis] It doesn’t always happen the first year, and you’ve got to keep trying and trying. Now they [the Aggies] are number one, and I tell the kids ‘this is what the hard work paid off,’ and that’s good for them.”