On Saturdays in March and April, fans of the Wade Wildcats unified basketball team journey to see its two teams play at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School. “They pack the stands,” Steven Baldo, the coach and a special education teacher at William B. Wade Elementary School, said.
The support continues in the hallways of the school with students asking when they can see the team play at Wade. To answer that plea, the Wildcat Classic, a basketball game to benefit charity, has been held for the past two years. This year the game was played April 29 at Wade — there is a silent auction, food and an autograph booth too.
Last year, the proceeds were given to Wade’s Relay for Life team. This year they were donated — early totals boast more than $4,000 raised — to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. The V Foundation was founded by the late Jim Valvano, a basketball coach and broadcaster, who battled a form of bone cancer.
“Don’t give up … don’t ever give up,” Valvano said in a 1993 speech at the ESPY awards shortly before his death. The sentiment sums up his students, Baldo said. “Our kids never give up,” he said. “Not in the classroom, not on the court.”
The school has two unified teams — a beginner squad for those starting out in the sport which typically includes first and second graders, and an intermediate team with third, fourth and fifth graders as its members. Of the combined 28 members, about three-fourths of the team is made up of students with special needs with the other one-fourth taking the court as helpers, Baldo said.
Each year, Baldo goes through a list of kids who have disabilities and recruits the ones who may not have an opportunity to play on another team, either in school or recreationally. “I think a lot of people underestimate them,” Baldo said of his team. Being part of a team, highlights their abilities and boosts their confidence.
“I want to practice and I want to shoot,” said Jeremy Haigh, a third grader who has played on the team for two years. “And I get to have fun.”
Anabella Prosper’s son, Daniel, a fourth grader, was going to sit out this basketball season at Wade to play soccer instead. But he changed his mind and signed up for his second year. It’s a choice the Prosper family can easily get behind. “Mr. Baldo has made such a big difference in Daniel’s life … his self esteem went up to the roof,” Prosper said. “What an amazing school this is. It’s been a great ride.”
To round out the team, Baldo asks teachers for names of students who will make good helpers — kids who are supportive and helpful but might need a surge of self-confidence themselves. Chloe Hashman is a fifth-grade safety patrol who serves as team helper. “It feels really good to help other kids,” she said. “And I feel really good about myself. It makes me want to do more … you never know what kind of people you’ll meet by helping.”
Practices start in January and go through April, but that doesn’t stop potential players from asking — as early as September — when they can get back on the court. It’s not only the main players who are itching to start the season, potential helpers bombard Baldo with inquires too.
“I actually get a lot of requests from students wanting to be on the basketball team,” he said. “Even after I explain that it’s not a standard team, they still want to be part of it, to help out.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.