May 24, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- Even for the fifth-graders at West Hoke Elementary School, the symbolism was pretty easy to see.
As Fayetteville State head men's basketball head coach Alphonza Kee and Lady Broncos women's basketball head coach Eva Patterson-Heath walked into the room, the basketball was hard to miss.
The point was made clear as quickly as a Broncos fast break -- success, in and out of the classroom, comes from hard work, determination and the ability to steer clear of distractions and naysayers.
Patterson-Heath (more on Kee's visit coming later in the week) and West Hoke Elementary School Principal Jackie Samuels have known each other for several years from their work in the North Carolina Public School System. But even though Samuels knew the kind of personality and message Patterson-Heath could bring to the classroom, he was still blown away by how effectively the Lady Broncos' coach could reach the students.
"We've brought in special guest speakers for a number of years, and we have about seven-to-eight a year," Samuels says of the recent visit, "but this was one of the best ones we've ever had. I knew Coach Patterson-Heath would do well, but this was just great. The students really, really enjoyed themselves."
Patterson-Heath, who spent decades building a Hall of Fame resume as the girls' basketball coach at Red Springs High School before leading Fayetteville State to the 2010 CIAA Championship, is no stranger to the classroom. That much was obvious in her comfort level from the start.
But for the students of West Hoke, located on Raeford, N.C., the parallels of basketball and schoolwork may not have hit home right at first.
But Patterson-Heath, using the basketball in her hands, easily tied everything together for the students, who were just days away from end-of-grade testing. Patterson-Heath broke down her rules to success for the students -- doing absolutely nothing but their best, avoiding bad company and meeting significant challenges. They are rules that work in the classroom just as well as they do on the hardwood.
"There are terms in basketball that relate perfectly to everyday life," says Patterson-Heath. "Words and terms like 'bounce back' and 'rebound.' I would pass the basketball to the students, have them say a word like that, and we'd talk about that word. And then the student would pass the ball to another student, and we'd do the exercise again."
"It was just the perfect message," says Samuels. "It all came together. We have end-of-grade testing, and the teachers and I have been telling the students that they need to work hard and try their best. But for the kids to hear it from two basketball coaches, especially two basketball coaches from a local university, that means that much more. We were really impressed with Coach Kee and Coach Patterson-Heath."
Patterson-Heath says she hopes to see the students again down the road.
"We've extended an invitation to all of them to come out and enjoy one of our games," she says. "These students will be moving on to middle schools now, and will be spread out. But the invitation is always open. I'd love to see them at a game next year and for them to come up and say 'Hi.'"