May 24 • 07:16 PM

Team takes a lesson in adversity

Imlay basketball team learns the challenges of various disabilities

March 03, 2010
IMLAY CITY — The 13 member boys' varsity basketball team didn't need to leave the court to experience a unique life lesson...the rules were just a little different.

In early February, the teens visited Elmer Knopf Learning Center in Flint where their head coach, Don Gauthier, works as a behavior specialist. The school serves children and teens with severe mental and physical disabilities. Gauthier believed the visit would be beneficial to both his team and his students. From all accounts, he was right.

Whether it was working on the fundamentals with the school's wheelchair team or playing with a simulated disability themselves, the Imlay City teens learned some valuable life lessons.

"I think it's a great example of service for our kids to perform with kids their own age that live a different lifestyle because of their disabilities. It was an eye-opener for our kids, and hopefully they'll be more grateful for the life they get to live," Gauthier said.

Coach Don Gauthier sought to give his players some valuable life lessons through the exchange. Pictured are Imlay City’s John Loveless and Eric Harbin.
"I wanted our kids to realize how fortunate they are, and meet with kids who are facing some real large obstacles in their lives and see how they face adversity."

That message obviously got through to junior Eric Harbin.

"We learned what other people go through who have disabilities, and understand better what they go through," Harbin said.

"At the end of our wheelchair game, we were able to untie a handkerchief holding our arm down, or take off a blindfold, but those kids can't."

Senior Adam Rauckis concurred on the impact the trip had had on their on and off-court attitudes.

"It reminds you not to take for granted things like the pride and joy of being on a varsity team," Rauckis said.

Gauthier's special-needs students were thrilled at the exchange too.

"The kids at the center have asked me to 'keep bringing those giants in here to visit.' I know this experience gave the students of the Learning Center an experience they will never forget," Gauthier said.

The team also took the court to play the Knopf Center's 'varsity' team of students who aren't wheelchair bound but have a variety of disabilities. The Imlay City players were only allowed to dribble and shoot with their non-dominant hand. The center's student body watched the game from the stands.

The trip is just one of the ways in which Gauthier wants to instill his players with life lessons. Considering the majority of student athletes don't enter the realm of professional sports, the coach believes it's important to prepare the teens for life as husbands, fathers, friends and community members.

Gauthier is in his first year as Imlay's head varsity coach.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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