UT Tyler Basketball Players Mentor in Arizona

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

TYLER – A group of UT Tyler student-athletes led by associate head men’s basketball coach Jake Deer traveled to Whiteriver, Arizona this month for the Respecting the Circle of Life: Mind, Body, and Spirit – a camp which served approximately 300 youth—ranging from 11 to 19 years old from the White Mountain Apache Indian Tribe.

Along with Deer and his wife, Carrie, UT Tyler current and former student-athletes Deon Rodgers, D’yonne Luke, Madison Wilson, Deion Robinson, Samantha Odom, Melvin Anthony, Skyler Hadden, Verlo Levels and Dia Evans traveled to Arizona to help mentor through the game of basketball. The camp, which was hosted in conjunction with facilitators from John Hopkins University, mixed lessons from the game of basketball along with leadership, teenage pregnancy prevention, suicide prevention, behavior health and high school dropout prevention.

“For over 13 years I have been running basketball camps in Whiteriver, Arizona with an emphasis of the hope founded in Jesus Christ,” Deer said. “This year, I had the opportunity to go out to Arizona with a compilation of a staff of 16. This groups is represented by former coaches and players from Florida Christian College in addition to current and former players and coaches from here at the University of Texas at Tyler.  Words do not express how powerful this experience is for all parties involved, both the coaches/ student-athletes and the apache teens alike. Our athletes were able to learn how powerful the ‘ball’ is as well as learn how to use their platform as student-athletes to better others, and the how powerful its ability is to create and build relationships with people from other cultures; in order to encourage, equip, and empower youth within a land with very little hope.”

The Patriots on the trip assisted John Hopkins with their research and training along with fostering relationships with the Apache youth. This was the second year that UT Tyler students traveled to Arizona with Deer on his mission which started in 2004 and helps youth who come from tough situations.

“I believe all UT Tyler players—number one—came away with a since of gratitude for the opportunities that they have in life and the opportunity to build a future for themselves by attending a university such as this one,” Deer said. “Number two, I believe—they also learned—how to use the game of basketball for a greater benefit than for themselves.  Number three—I believe—each athlete now sees how there are kids all over our country in tough and bad situations that need pastors, coaches, educators, and mentors—like themselves—who are able to stand in the gap in order to make a difference in the life of a child.”

REFLECTIONS FROM THE GROUP:

"Exploring the Fort Apache reservation and seeing their culture and basic needs not being met was definitely an experience I will always have in the back of my mind whenever I approach any teaching career options and mentoring possibilities. There was nothing like seeing all of the kids light up just because they saw us walk into the basketball gym. It’s still amazing to me that such turmoil can occur in such a beautiful place with thousands of remarkable people! Thank you for such a wonderful and heart-warming experience!” – Samantha Odom

“The two weeks I spent on the Rez was life changing, I got a chance to meet and coach some amazing kids. I love going to the Rez, for one the kids make me feel like a superstar or someone special. Another reason why I love the Rez is because of the view, every morning I wake up and look at the mountains I just think about how good God is. If I have the opportunity I will go back to the Rez every single year!” – Dyonne Luke

“Something that stuck with me throughout the trip was getting out of my comfort zone, whether it be with the kids at camp, how I carried myself personally, or experiencing things I've never done before. Day by day it was all about what could I do better or what more could I do.” – Melvin Anthony II

“This trip was a blessing in my life. Getting to experience this for a second time was amazing. Being able to connect with the kids, and make an impact on their lives is one of the greatest opportunities have been able to be a part of. This trip will forever have a place in my heart and I got to conquer one of my biggest fears by sky diving and cliff jumping.  In addition I was able to see one of God's greatest creations by visiting the Grand Canyon. I cannot thank Coach Deer enough for allowing me to go on this trip again. This trip has grown me closer to God, and helped learn more about his word. Overall the memories and relationships I made over the course of the trip will last a lifetime.” – Deion Robinson

“Going into camp I was just thinking about what basketball skills and drills that I could teach the kids. As the first week ended, I realized that the kids wanted more than to get better at basketball.  They wanted a friendship. They didn't care what you had or didn't have. The kids just wanted someone to care about them. This camp made me take a step back and be grateful for the life I have here in Texas.” – Verlo Levels

“I really enjoyed my two weeks on the Rez. Being there taught me how to appreciate the small things. It's amazing how you can build such strong relationships in a short amount of time.” – Skyler Hadden

“Every summer on the Rez is life changing. From the kids, to the coaches we work with, to the environment and God's beauty in the mountains. There is so much going on in our own country that not many people even know about. I believe everyone needs to visit this Rez at least one time in their life, you will never be the same.” – Dia Evans

“Going to the Rez is the highlight of my summer. It's a time not only for me to serve others but to unplug from the rest of the world and focus on what's really important: building relationships with others and growing in Jesus. We go there to teach the kids about basketball, but it's really them that teach us.” – Madison Wilson