Basketball Is Classroom Passion In Indiana District

By John Gehring — March 19, 2003 2 min read
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Basketball, which is like a religion in Indiana, has also found its way into the curriculum at one school there.

About a decade ago, teachers at Avon Intermediate School, a few miles west of Indianapolis, came up with the idea of tapping into students’ passion for all things basketball by using the sport as a fun way into more serious subjects, such as science, history, social studies, and math.

“We call the curriculum Hoosier Hysteria,” said Lori Sampson, a 6th grade teacher at the 1,000-student school in Avon.

This year’s activities began a few weeks ago with a “tipoff” event that featured a motivational speaker named Jim “Basketball” Jones. He spun a basketball on everything from his fingers to a drinking glass as he talked about how he overcame a learning disability in school and graduated at the top of his business school class at Bowling Green State University.

A television commentator for the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers served as the master of ceremonies.

Since then, students have worked on mathematics skills by learning how to calculate shooting percentages after a foul-shooting contest at the school. They learned the concepts of area and perimeter by taking the measurements of a basketball court. Writing assignments also allow students to pretend they are sportswriters.

In history class, students have learned about James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball in 1891 by hanging up two peach baskets at a YMCA gymnasium in Springfield, Mass., to give youths an indoor diversion that would get them through the harsh winter. On March 24, Mr. Naismith’s grandson is scheduled to meet with the students.

Spreading the Word

And yes, there is the real thing. The 6th graders had their own basketball tournament featuring 19 teams, a pep band, and a thousand students, teachers, and family members cheering them on during a championship game.

Along with integrating basketball with classwork, students have taken field trips to the National Collegiate Athletic Association headquarters in Indianapolis and to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle. Gene Cato, the president of the hall of fame, and a former school district superintendent in Indiana, was so interested in what the Avon teachers were doing he invited them to give workshops on Hoosier Hysteria to other teachers.

Avon teachers have given the workshops for the past four years to about 150 teachers and administrators.

Most importantly, though, the students at Avon see the program as a slam-dunk of a success.

“All of the work we have done has been around basketball,” said 12-year-old Courtney Kepler. “It’s made it more interesting.”

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