The Desert Wind Middle School girls’ basketball team is focused on trying to win the Pinal County Middle School championship next week.
They will be taking on cross-town rival Maricopa Wells Middle School Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the DWMS Gym.
First, however, was a more important chore -- brightening the lives of some Santa Cruz Elementary School kindergarteners Friday by spending time reading to them in their classrooms.
Second-year coach Willie Lange beamed as his players gathered around small tables, and sat on the floor, reading to the youngsters.
It was the day after his team had won the county semi-finals, defeating San Tan Valley Combs Middle School, 45-16. Leading the way for the 12-0 Tigers were Alyssa Hailey with 19 points and Danae Ruiz who scored nine. In addition, Raegene Womack contributed seven points while Sydney McClelland scored six and added 12 assists and ten rebounds.
Now, however, it was about connecting with the kids, which took very little time.
The moment the Tigers entered the classroom they exclaimed, almost as one, “They’re so cute.” The youngsters, meanwhile, were in awe of this huge basketball team.
“We like to volunteer,” said Lange, a native of the Chicago suburb of Algonquin, Ill., and a social studies and broadcast media teacher at the school. “It’s not just basketball. We’re trying to form all-around great individuals."
The experience of connecting the team with the young students benefits both groups.
“The kindergarteners here go to Desert Wind eventually, so we try to tie together both schools and create something fun.”
DWMS co-captains Danae Ruiz and Sydney McClelland said they loved the experience.
“It’s so much fun to do this,” said Ruiz, while McClelland added, “Our team is really close friends and we like doing this together.
Lange said sometimes the experience helps draw his students into education as a profession.
“Some of them tell me they’re looking into possibly being a teacher because they had so much fun,” the second-year head coach said.For their part, Ruiz said she wants to go into medicine and McClelland has her eye on the business world.
Lange said he is excited his team is doing so well. The Tigers are looking for their second championship in three years.
“These girls are fantastic,” he said. “The leadership of my starters, and the eighth graders, they make my job easy. Gradewise most of them are honor students. I love to brag to the staff and publish their GPA. It’s above 3.0 for the team.”
Some will head to Maricopa High School next year, while some will go elsewhere.
“I’d love to see them stay here in Maricopa,” Lange said. “I think some of them can possibly jump over freshman and go straight to JV, or maybe even varsity.
“Wherever they go, I’ll be supporting them.”