Brad Mosher / The Observer First-grader Kale Bingaman gets a lift down the Cove line from Imbler freshman Trace Vancleave. Imbler has reintroduced its Little Buddies program, matching Imbler Elementary students with IHS athletes so they can serve as mentors. IHS junior Malia Mills is bringing the program back as a part of her senior project. BRAD MOSHER/The Observer
by DICK MASON / The Observer
Some Union County high school students help build greenhouses and sidewalks for their senior projects. Imbler High School junior Malia Mills is building bridges, establishing connections between students of different generations that may last a lifetime.
Mills is doing so by bringing back her school district’s Little Buddy program. Through the program IHS athletes are matched with Imbler Elementary students so they can serve as mentors.
The program was a rim-rattling success recently when Imbler hosted Cove in boys and girls basketball doubleheader. Prior to each varsity game, players on both teams were introduced with their elementary school buddy. Each player and their new friend jogged to center court, shook hands with the referees and ran past a line of Cove players, giving friendly hand slaps to opposing players. The children, wearing the road jerseys of their big buddy, then watched the game in a special section with other Little Buddy mentors.
The ever-present smiles on the faces of the children throughout the evening said it all.
“They loved the opportunity to be with students they look up to,” said Jennifer Teeter, an IHS business teacher who is Mills’ senior project adviser.
Mills is a member of the girls IHS basketball team and the daughter of Imbler Principal Mike Mills and Sandy Mills, an Imbler Elementary teacher. Malia Mills brought back the Little Buddy program because she had participated in it as a grade schooler and wanted Imbler’s current elementary school students to experience what she had.
“I had an awesome experience,” Mills said.
Players are matched randomly with grade schoolers. Over the years some players and their grade school buddies have become lifetime friends, said Imbler School District Superintendent Doug Hislop. The superintendent noted that years ago a IHS basketball player, Kenny Kramer, was matched with grade schooler Bryan Mills. They hit it off and remain good friends today.
Hislop said that the Little Buddy program benefits the high school students as much as the grade schoolers
“They like it because they take ownership. They learn about the importance of being a good role model,’’ Hislop said.
Teeter said that things went so well at the Imbler-Cove basketball games that Mills plans to extend the Little Buddy program next fall to involve more children. Football and volleyball players will participating in it as Mills extends the program.
Teeter said one of many reasons the Little Buddy program is a success is it allows children to connect with high school students through athletics.
“It is exciting for them because they want to be a part of high school sports.’’