Teamwork was a key lesson for Mason Bates this season. “I learned to trust your teammates and pretty much always give them a chance with the basketball,” the seventh grader said. The return of basketball at Winona Middle School (WMS) this academic year gave this member of the seventh grade boys basketball team the opportunity to learn about playing basketball and being part of a team.
Last school year, seventh and eighth grade football, volleyball and basketball did not take place. In light of the pandemic, there were concerns about running those indoor sports, Indra said, and in addition, the conference in which those teams normally compete was shut down.
Middle school students were still able to participate in some other sports during the 2020-2021 school year. The district ran seventh and eighth grade track and field. Also, students could be part of the high school teams for some sports, such as cross country, softball, tennis and golf.
Today, seventh and eighth grade football, volleyball and boys basketball have already taken place for the 2021-2022 school year, and girls basketball just started its season. Middle school track and field will happen in the spring.
Basketball is one of several seventh and eighth grade sports that have come back this school year at Winona Area Public Schools. “We’re back in full swing with all our middle school sports,” Winona Senior High School and WMS Activities Director Casey Indra said.
Those specifically involved with basketball are thrilled the sport is back, though. For Bates, the return of basketball at the middle school has provided him the opportunity to play one of his favorite sports. He has been playing basketball since third grade, and after this season at the middle school, he plans to keep playing. “I really like playing with my friends in the sport,” he said. This season, he learned to effectively get the basketball to the rim, and he appreciated competing. “I like to play against schools, especially teams that are better than us, so they make us better,” he said.
Eighth Grade Boys Basketball Coach Kevin Suber, who is also now coaching girls basketball, could sense students’ excitement about being back on the court. “They felt like it was a big weight lifted off their shoulders when they were able to come back and do something they love,” he said.
That excitement translates to different areas of students’ lives. Returning to the gym has positively impacted many aspects of students’ health, Seventh Grade Boys Basketball Coach Scott Mlynczak said. “It’s good for them mentally. It’s good for them physically. It’s good for their individual growth and team building,” he said. Being part of a basketball team gives students the chance to have something to look forward to in their day and socialize with one another while working to get better at the sport, he said. Suber agreed. “When you get involved with sports, and you begin to play with other kids and be on a team, you learn bonding skills,” he said. By the end of the season, players had bonded, he added. “They began to build that chemistry and be like brothers out there on the court, and know what the next person is going to do on the court,” he said.
In addition to that lesson about respecting teammates, Indra hopes students learn to respect opponents and their families. He hopes students learn how to play sports and also love doing so. “We want to teach them to be better citizens,” he said. He continued, “It’s those lifelong lessons that, hopefully, when they get their first job, they can look back and say, ‘Hey, my coach taught me that.’” Education@winonapost.com