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By Nichole Boehnke
Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University men's basketball team has made being involved in the Big Rapids community a priority and have wasted little time in volunteering when opportunities to help present themselves.
Over the years, the program has been active in a variety of service-related initiatives, and those efforts have continued under the leadership and direction of first-year head coach Andy Bronkema, who noted the team has often worked on several projects a year under previous head coach Bill Sall and wants to continue that tradition.
"The players on our team understand the importance of service and as coaches we are striving to instill a servant leadership style," Bronkema said.
Over the summer, senior forward Raymoan McAfee was among those who worked beside Bronkema as he held a basketball clinic for students at Big Jackson Public Schools. With the help of some other members in the athletic department including the women's basketball staff, the softball coach and two student-athletes, the students ran through a variety of different drills and were able to learn fundamental skills in the game of basketball. A highlight of the clinic was a water balloon toss and every student received a drawstring backpack.
One of the teachers helping with the event was Jessica Leenhouts, who watched the kids learn new games and skills under the high energy from the coaching staff.
"All the coaches encouraged our kids to come out to games," Leenhouts said. "Many left the camp wanting to attend a game along with wanting to attend college in general."
Another community member, Dr. Jeff Mossel, has been active for several years with the Ferris State Basketball teams in the strength training area and called Bronkema for assistance with the Big Bad Wolf Adventure Race, which takes place over the Labor Day holiday. This year, the men's basketball team helped racers during competition by pulling their canoes and kayaks back on shore.
During the Big Bad Wolf race, participants run a 5K, bike 6.45 miles on the White Pine Trail and canoe/kayak approximately four miles on the Muskegon River. FSU student-athletes Jayone Troutman, Matt Stoll, Matt Sinnaeve and James Chappell from the men's basketball squad were among the volunteers from the team ready to lend a hand to all the participants.
"It was nice to see them interacting with the community and they were all very friendly and fun to be around," Dr. Mossel said.
Mossel worked again with the program in gathering the team to paint newly-installed playground equipment at Brookside Elementary in Big Rapids. The school received new equipment this summer in memory of Richard C. Young and the school needed help with assembly and painting, particularly in higher areas. Nearly the whole basketball team went to Brookside Elementary a few weeks ago and painted the swings and other equipment.
"It was a great feeling to be able to do something like this for the community that supports us and looks up to us so much," said Bulldog sophomore Josh Fleming.
During Ferris State's Welcome Weekend in August, the entire team helped move students into the residence halls. Junior guard Dietrich Lever said it was a chance to show people what men's basketball is all about.
"It was a fun experience and it's great that we had a chance to help the students out because we all remember moving into the dorms as freshmen," Lever said.
Bronkema said the look on the students and parents faces is priceless when the team arrives with 15 individuals who are able to move their entire room in one trip.
"Many hands make light work and when we get the team together to work we can really cover some ground," Bronkema said.
Bronkema notes that these four projects are just the beginning for the team outside of the gym and he's motivated to keep the men's basketball program involved in the community throughout the year.
"Like many of our other teams at Ferris State, we're thankful for the community support we receive and events like these help us give a little back," he said. "They are also important for us in terms of helping our student-athletes continue to realize the value of hard work and to be appreciative for the tremendous support from fans across campus and throughout the community."
The Bulldogs will officially open practice for the 2013-14 campaign and year one under Bronkema's direction on Tuesday, Oct. 15.