Picture this scenario. Let's say a legendary basketball coach like Dean Smith was tired of sitting on his rocking chair in Chapel Hill and walked up to a Special Olympics volunteer to offer his services to start a basketball program. Or perhaps former Georgetown coach John Thompson. Or the sometimes cantankerous Bob Knight.
OK. Maybe not Bob Knight, though you just never know.
That may seem a little far fetched, even with Smith's history of taking a stand and backing a cause. The winningest coach in Canadian university history did just that on Tuesday in Brandon, Man.
Jerry Hemmings, the former Brandon University men's basketball coach who racked up 734 wins and a few national championships, will be setting up a Special Olympics basketball program in Brandon, with the hopes of giving kids with special needs a chance to make a free throw, send a teammate on a fast break and make a big shot.
It's not the first time he's offered his services for Special Olympics. He's been an honourary coach and has run some clinics in the past. The last one attracted between 50-60 athletes. So he came up with idea of setting up a permanent program to "give the kids some options," he said. The Brandon-based team could play two others from Winnipeg and one in southern Manitoba and could help Manitoba develop a basketball presence in the Special Olympics world that it never had before. Probably because there weren't any basketball teams in the Keystone Province a few years ago.
His idea could very well have come from an adaptive physical activity course he taught at Brandon University two years ago. There, he trained people with special needs in the art basketball over a period of six months. The course was designed to give graduating teachers exposure to teaching children with special needs, but he discovered something else.
"It was unbelievable how their fitness level improved over that area of time and how committed they were," Hemming said.
Hemmings is a polarizing figure in some realms. His methods may not be universally loved and he's got his fans who claim he can do no wrong running alongside critics that state he's done little right. But he didn't have to do this.
Brandon University let him go under strange circumstances while he was in Syria, coaching a pro team while on sabbatical. Hemmings, who shares the same home town as Andy Griffith (Mount Airy, N.C. for those interested), could have used a Matlock in his corner to get his job back. He could easily have said, 'I'm done.' and walked away from the game. Few would have blamed him for it. But he didn't.
Instead, he stayed on as a professor at the very university that rejected him as a coach and even admirably volunteered to coach high school students on a junior varsity team. Perhaps knowing that, his new venture shouldn't have been much of a shock.
"When you are a coach, you are always a coach," Hemmings told the Brandon Sun on Tuesday. "I've been involved in Special Olympics off and on for the last 20 years."
If enough athletes are interested, Hemmings will begin coaching again in September, with people who will appreciate his teachings as much as he loves to teach players his favourite play — the pick and roll.
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