March Madness is taking hold at Honor Ridge as its varsity basketball team prepares for the playoffs in the NJNCAA conference.
The single-elimination playoffs begin March 19, coinciding with March Madness, the well-known televised tournament that starts with 64 of college basketball’s best teams.Coach Mike Adams said whether the team wins or loses in the playoffs, the experience of playing has been tremendously beneficial for the 10 students who are participating.
“The basketball program really gives these students something to look forward to,” Adams said. “Belonging to the team gives them an avenue to express themselves in a way they haven’t done before. It builds their self esteem, it affords them good memories and the competition provides them with a challenge to rise above. It teaches them how to work together and handle wins and losses. It’s a great thing for the kids”
Adams has been working with students at Honor Ridge since 1978 and over that time has learned how to encourage students with behavioral and emotional challenges that would frustrate many coaches.
“A lot of coaches don’t have the patience to work through these kids’ struggles,” Adams said. “Most coaches don’t have the patience or resolve to stick with them and work with them and highlight what they do well. It’s easy to follow them into failure, but hard to maintain a positive directive. These kids know how to lose, but they don’t know how to win.”
Adams said some students are afraid of contact and tend to shy away and withdraw, especially students facing post-traumatic stress.
“My challenge is to get them to engage in competition, to let them know that they aren’t going to get injured,” he said. “I see them develop very quickly. “
The most difficult aspect is getting the students to understand that success doesn’t come immediately, but only after hours of practice.
The team practices several days a week in the community room at the Watchung Presbyterian Church in North Plainfield. Though they only have half a court, the students make the most of the space, practicing drills and shooting and learning the fundamentals of the game.
“The opportunity to participate is given to any student who has an interest, ability and aptitude to fit in and complete what’s expected of them,” Adams said. “The skills they are learning on the basketball court carries right into the classroom. They are proud of themselves for being part of it.”