LPS students net winning moments at CLC basketball games

Students from six Lincoln elementary schools are scoring points in the game of life this fall through their involvement in a new youth basketball league.
Fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Lincoln Community Learning Centers (CLC) program are taking part in the inaugural CLC basketball league. Teams from Arnold, Belmont, Huntington, Lakeview, Norwood Park and Riley are playing five games during the fall. Twelve students from each after-school program – six girls and six boys – are representing their buildings this year.
Huntington Principal Kristi Schirmer smiled as she watched teams from Huntington and Riley run up and down the court on Oct. 12. She said the basketball league has been a valuable addition to the CLC curriculum.
“This is something really positive that they’re doing,” Schirmer said. “It’s awesome to see. They’re learning how to be part of a team, they’re learning how to communicate with each other and they’re able to have people cheer for them. They’re learning so much in this kind of environment. This is giving them skills that you can’t teach in a classroom.”
Lincoln CLC Director Nola Derby-Bennett said she has been thrilled with the response from students, teachers and parents. CLC students enjoyed playing in an elementary soccer league in previous years, and CLC leaders wanted to expand that successful venture to the basketball court. They partnered with multiple Nebraska Wesleyan University students to get the new league up and running.
“CLCs have a focus on creating equitable access to academic and enrichment activities for students,” Derby-Bennett said. “As part of our regular club programming, all CLC sites offer opportunities for students to move and develop healthy recreation habits. We know that our students enjoy learning and playing competitive sports, and there are times when cost and time commitments can be barriers for families to access other opportunities that are available in our community.”
NWU freshman MacKaylee Madsen is helping coach Riley’s team this fall. The Conestoga High School graduate said she has enjoyed watching her players have fun and learn new skills. None of the Riley students had played competitive basketball before joining the league, but they have quickly caught on to concepts like dribbling, passing and defense.
“I’ve really liked doing this,” Madsen said. “It’s been so much fun to see them improve. Today was the best we’ve played, so I’m really proud of them.”
All six teams spent two weeks in September practicing at their schools before starting their round-robin schedule. The eight-week season includes a bye week to give students additional time to practice.
Jeralyn Klingenberg is the CLC school community coordinator at Huntington. She said many teachers and staff members have encouraged students with their presence at games. Multiple teachers traveled to other schools to watch the Eagles during the first two weeks, and Huntington’s gym was packed with fans during the girls and boys games with Riley.
“Our students have had two away games so far, and every game they come back to school talking about what teachers were there and who was cheering them on,” Klingenberg said. “We have been lucky in that we have had different teachers/staff attend each game.”
Huntington and Riley parents filled chairs spread across two edges of the court at the start of the girls game, and a row of Huntington students sat along one of the baselines. One of the Huntington teachers wore an inflatable eagle costume and spread her wings for high-fives with students. Schirmer also led fans from both schools in a wave that moved all the way around the gym.
“It’s really cool to see this,” Lincoln CLC Curriculum Specialist Kristi Chambers said as she watched the action. “It’s great to see this much support for our kids.”
Huntington players wore green t-shirts and Riley donned blue t-shirts for the four-on-four game. Coaches of both schools made many substitutions throughout the afternoon to ensure everyone had plenty of playing time.
School and CLC leaders are using the program to plant seeds of sportsmanship. Schirmer welcomed everyone to the gym and told all of the Huntington students and fans that she was proud of the Eagles. She then encouraged everyone to support Riley players and fans as well. The entire gym erupted in cheers for the Rams.
Derby-Bennett said she has already heard many stories about the program’s social and educational benefits. She said CLC leaders have seen multiple students display more positive behavior since the league began, and coaches have watched them gain more self-confidence in their practices and games. Their classmates have also experienced the joy of cheering for other people while watching the games.
Schirmer said all of those outcomes are helping CLC students land on the winning side of life’s scoreboard.
“It has been a wonderful experience for the students to play sports,” Schirmer said. “They are learning social skills and competition skills.”
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Published: October 25, 2023, Updated: October 25, 2023

Huntington Elementary School students celebrate during a youth basketball game on Oct. 12. Students from six Lincoln elementary schools are participating in a new youth basketball league this fall. Fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Lincoln Community Learning Centers (CLC) program are playing games.