In her first year as the physical education teacher at St. Marys Road Magnet Academy, Tammie Barnes has plenty of enthusiasm to organize the school's Hoops for Heart fundraiser for the American Heart Association. But she felt she didn't have enough basketball knowledge to coach the eager group of 40 students in grade 3-5 who wanted to participate.
Her son attends Hardaway High, so she asked the girls basketball coach, Kendall Mills, for some help. Not only did he give the elementary school uniforms to use, but he also encouraged his players to visit St. Marys and help guide the elementary school students.
Tuesday after school, four Hardaway team members -- seniors Serena Dent, Ebonee McCrory and Tavoshia Cosby, along with freshman Genesis Adams -- talked with and coached the 18 elementary school girls gathered in the St. Marys Road gym.
Ebonee emphasized choosing friends wisely.
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"It's important to hang around a positive group of friends," she said. " They're going to encourage you if you want to study for this or study for that and do good in your grades. If you hang around a bad group of friends, it could take you down a wrong road, where you don't want to go."
Serena stressed developing confidence through practice -- on and off the court.
"When you practice, you've got to focus, work hard, listen to your coach and help each other," Serena said. "When you go into the classroom, studying -- that's just like practice for your mind. You don't know everything, so you've got to study and listen to your teacher, and you've got to work with each other outside the classroom, too. Once you get up into middle school and everything, you're going to have more group projects. You've got to become a family with who you're in class with. You've got to work with each other to achieve your goals and get good grades."
Getting good grades, Tavoshia said, is important because, "If you want to get somewhere in life, you have to further your education. You need to keep your grades up. Y'all got to start young. Stay on top of your school work, and you'll be successful in life."
Genesis focused on discipline and attitude.
"You're going to be on a team with different girls," she said. "Y'all are going to have to work together to win a game or push harder to get each other better. When y'all are out on the court, don't ever talk down on them. Don't think about the mistake, just bounce back on it."
The Hardaway students asked the St. Marys students whether any of them were scared to go to middle school. About half raised a hand.
Fifth-grader Celeste Scott said she fears she will be too short.
Serena replied, "Look at my shirt." The message declared, "Short girls can hoop."
"Everybody is going to have an opinion on you," Serena continued. "But one thing y'all got to learn is opinions don't matter. They ain't going to score nothing on the court. You've got to take that and use it as your motivation."
Ebonee noted she is no more than 5-foot-3, "but I've got speed and my ball-handling skills are where they need to be. 'OK, you tell me I'm short, I'm going to show you.'"
Serena said, "Her ball-handling skills are good because she works on it outside of practice."
She also does what it takes, despite the resources. Ebonee didn't have a basketball at home when she was younger, so she learned to shoot hoops with a football, she said.
"If sports is something you really want to do," Serena said, "you have to feed your hunger. You have to do abnormal things."
Serena emphasized time management and striving for a balance in activities. And when struggle or confusion inevitably comes, communication is key. "Don't be afraid to ask questions," she said.
The Hardaway girls welcomed the St. Marys girls to continue seeking their help beyond the fundraiser.
"We'll still mentor you," Serena said. "We want to encourage you to be the best you can be in life."
The positive impact already was evident.
"They were really nice to come down here and talk to us," Celeste said, wearing a Hardaway Hawks jersey. "They told us I shouldn't be scared, even if I'm short. Even if people doubt me, I still can do it."
All of which brought tears to Barnes' eyes.
"As a coach, we pull at any straws we have," she said. "So to see these young women come out to motivate these girls, it's a step in the right direction."
Hearing such a message from students can make a connection that is elusive for adults.
"I'm somebody's mother," Barnes said. "These young women are just a few years older than these kids. It's priceless. They were real for them."
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.
IF YOU GO
What: St. Marys Road Magnet Academy's "Hoops for Heart" fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
When: Friday, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Shirley B. Winston Recreation Center, 5025 Steam Mill Road.
Note: The 40 participating students in grades 3-5 already have raised $400 through donations. If they achieve their $1,000 goal, each of them will receive a basketball and a T-shirt, said St. Marys physical education teacher Tammie Barnes.