Men’s Basketball Makes Community Impact

The Fighting Squirrels basketball team has been working at Bessie Weller Elementary to advance outdoor learning opportunities for K-5 students.

Fans of college basketball might picture players’ freetime on the pristine, waxed hardwood floors of the court with the echoing squeaks and bounces of sneakers and basketballs. But what about the forest floor, trees overhead, and the sounds of birds and curious kids?

For the past few fall semesters, the Mary Baldwin men’s basketball team has been getting their hands dirty in the name of community, camaraderie, and K-12 outdoor learning.

The team has lent their cooperation (and muscle) to help build an accessible trail in the woods around Bessie Weller Elementary, complete with “investigation stations” for kids to experience and learn from.

The collaboration came by way of Tamra Willis, MBU professor emerita of education and local advocate for outdoor education. Along with a committee of teachers, administrators, and local volunteers, Willis and team secured a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to embark on the project.

“The men’s team has been so important to accomplishing the work,” Willis raved. “There is no way we would be this far along without their help.”

Willis continued, “In the fall of 2022, they helped us clear the trail, especially the upper trail that was completely new. We had to cut trees and vines, move branches, open up spaces for the trail, etc. This past fall (2023), the team came out several times to help us move mountains of mulch via wheelbarrows and buckets to put onto the upper trail and to cover a large outdoor classroom space in the woods.”

During their contribution to the project, the Fighting Squirrels’ teamwork was on full display. 

“It was amazing how well the team worked together to get it done in no time. All of the other volunteers commented on the wonderful sense of comradery among the players; they seemed to have fun while also staying very focused on the work at hand,” Willis commented.

The most important part of this relationship is the focus on community, according to Coach Matt Griggs. 

“We thought it would be great for our players to start visiting the school on a regular basis during the spring and fall to help out in the classrooms, spend time in the gym and lunchroom, and provide mentorship to the students – in addition to finishing the outdoor classroom project.”

Willis agreed, “Having members of the community involved in development of the trail and also working with students is win-win, especially for the students at Bessie Weller. The young students look up to adults who come to help, and especially have great role models in these basketball team members as well as Coach Griggs and Coach Brown. The team members surely gain from the experience as well, learning to give back and enhancing a community fan base beyond the hills of MBU!”