Kids ‘Bounce Out the Stigma’ through bas­ket­ball clinic

Camp fo­cuses on devel­op­ing mo­tor skills, con­fi­dence for chil­dren with spe­cial needs

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­

With the help of “Mighty Mike” Sim­mel, more than a dozen kids came to­gether on Satur­day to “Bounce Out the Stigma,” a bas­ket­ball camp specif­i­cally de­signed to help em­power chil­dren of all ages and abil­i­ties, es­pe­cially those with spe­cial needs.

“We want to em­power chil­dren and make them feel that you can do any­thing you want as long as you put your mind to it and be­lieve in your­self,” said Sim­mel, who founded the pro­gram in 2005 while en­ter­tain­ing crowds pro­fes­sion­ally with daz­zling ball-han­dling as a Har­lem Wiz­ard. “Our mantra is, ‘Lim­its will not de­fine me, my will de­fines my lim­its.’”

“A limit is some­thing that peo­ple place on you and it’s a chal­lenge,” he said. “We want peo­ple to em­brace those chal­lenges and break the bar­ri­ers.”

The free day-long clinic,

funded by the Mary­land Ju­nior Cham­ber (Jaycees), fo­cused on devel­op­ing the chil­dren’s mo­tor skills and hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion in an up­lift­ing at­mos­phere of en­cour­age­ment and pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment. While chil­dren learn plenty of bas­ket­ball skills, more im­por­tantly, they learn in­valu­able life skills and build self-con­fi­dence.

In one par­tic­u­lar drill, af­ter drib­bling through a se­ries of cones, campers took a jump shot a few feet away from the bas­ket. Every­one cheered, clapped and praised as they shot, re­gard­less of the out­come.

“It’s im­por­tant to give a very nur­tur­ing at­mos­phere,” said vol­un­teer Jared Al­bert. “Every­one’s clap­ping for ev­ery­body whether they make the shot or not ... It’s im­por­tant that they see that suc­cess isn’t al­ways mak­ing the shot, that suc­cess is just tak­ing the shot.”

Sim­mel, who de­vel­oped epilepsy at the age of 2, knows what it’s like to break through lim­i­ta­tions, or per­ceived lim­i­ta­tions, as he would say. Up un­til he was 7 years old, Sim­mel suf­fered from fre­quent seizures, at times had to wear a pro­tec­tive hel­met, and was placed in a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion gym class due to his slow mo­tor skills and de­vel­op­ment.

When he turned 7, his fa­ther gave him a bas­ket­ball, and the rest is his­tory. He prac­ticed for sev­eral hours a day, he said, driven to ex­ceed all ex­pec­ta­tions. At a bas­ket­ball camp when he was 16 years old, he had a ma­jor epilep­tic seizure, the first one in 10 years, and was nearly re­moved from fur­ther par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“The camp wanted to send me home, but the par­ents wouldn’t let that hap­pen,” Sim­mel said. “I al­ways kept in the back of my head, if I was ever in a po­si­tion to help kids down the road, I was go­ing to do it.”

Sim­mel went on to be a three-year starter, cap­tain and stand-out point guard at Don Bosco Prepara­tory High School in New Jer­sey, ac­cord­ing to a web­site bi­og­ra­phy. As a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Hun School of Prince­ton, he led the team with steals and as­sists. In col­lege at SUNY Pur­chase, he was a two-year cap­tain as well as as­sist and steals leader, all while still strug­gling with seizures.

From 2001 to 2014, Sim­mel played on the Har­lem Wizards pro­fes­sional en­ter­tain­ment bas­ket­ball team, and es­tab­lished the Bounce Out the Stigma pro­gram in 2005. Since then, he has gar­nered na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion and been awarded sev­eral pres­ti­gious ac­co­lades. Most no­table was his live per­for­mance on NBC’s “It’s Show­time at The Apollo,” and his 2009 TOYA award from the United States Jaycees or­ga­ni­za­tion, given an­nu­ally to Ten Out­stand­ing Young Amer­i­cans.

“The camp is all about em­pow­er­ment. Em­pow­er­ing the kids to over­come any ob­sta­cle they may face.” said Shan­non O’Hara, project chair­per­son and board mem­ber of the Mary­land Jaycees, whom Sim­mel cred­ited with mak­ing the camp a re­al­ity. “This camp gives kids an op­por­tu­nity to try some­thing new out of their comfort zone, and get com­fort­able with get­ting out­side of the box.”

“Ev­ery camp I’ve ever gone to, the kids are like phe­nom­e­nally ex­cited,” Twit­ter: @An­drew_IndyNews she con­tin­ued. “They just love the camp, they love Mike. He’s fun and he can re­late to the kids.”

This was the first time the camp has been hosted in Mary­land through the Mary­land Jaycees, and O’Hara hopes that in the com­ing years it will be hosted through­out the state.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON “Mighty Mike” Sim­mel spins a bas­ket­ball onto a cam­per’s fin­ger at The Bounce Out the Stigma pro­gram, founded by Sim­mel, at a clinic Satur­day at North Point High School. It is a bas­ket­ball camp ded­i­cated to em­pow­er­ing chil­dren of all ages and abil­i­ties, es­pe­cially those with spe­cial needs.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON Campers get ready to shoot free throws dur­ing the “Bounce Out the Stigma” bas­ket­ball clinic.

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