Women's Basketball, Heller's Angels Friendship Continues To Foster

Lyons to host Heller's Angels basketball team at halftime versus Babson on December 7

PHOTO GALLERY

NORTON, Mass. – About four years ago, the Wheaton College women's basketball team partnered up with the Heller's Angels Special Olympics Team. The Lyons have helped the squad work on its skills in several sports and even surprised the group with pizza at practice on numerous occasions. Since then, that partnership has turned into more of a friendship for the women's basketball team and the Heller's Angels.

"This relationship with the Heller's Angels has allowed our student-athletes to grow in several ways and it has also, more importantly, helped the Heller's Angels group in a variety of ways," said Wheaton College women's basketball head coach Melissa L. Hodgdon. "We have seen the value in this relationship and want it to continue to grow."

In the past couple of months the Lyons have participated in many Heller's Angels events and even helped its soccer team work on its fitness, teamwork and most of all have fun with the sport. More recently, the women's basketball team helped host the Fall Harvest Ball on Saturday, November 10. The Lyons lent a hand to the Office of Service, Sprituality and Social Responsibility (SSSR) a couple of weeks ago by participating in face painting, helping chaperone a dancing event and enjoying their time with the Heller's Angels. Overall, the event raised $3,400 dollars for the group.

Patti Rezendes, an employee in the SSSR office at the College, is partly responsible for harvesting the relationship between the women's basketball team and the Heller's Angels. She is the one who introduced the two groups, after all.

"It has become a connection," said Rezendes, whose son joined the team at age 14. "Both teams have become friends because they understand the spirit of the game and the spirit of being a team. This friendship has also become a teachable moment for the women's basketball team because the Heller's team has taught them how to let go of their inhibitions and just have fun. They are magical together."

Senior guard Gabby Barbera (Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood) also feels that same connection.

"This partnership has definitely grown to become a friendship. We've worked with this program and some of the same children for a few years now," said Barbera. "It's to the point where the children recognize us when we walk in and we know them by name. Seeing the Heller's Angels children grow through each experience and witnessing the joy that comes to both the Angels and the team's faces is extremely rewarding. We look forward to the next time we get to see them."

On December 7, the women's basketball team has invited the Heller's Angels basketball squad to compete in a game at halftime during the Lyons contest versus New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) rival Babson College at 7 p.m. in Emerson Gymnasium. The Lyons will also host a pizza party for the team after their matchup with the Beavers.

Heller's Angels was created by Caron Heller, a special education teacher at Brennan Middle School in Attleboro, Mass., and is comprised of athletes ages eight and older. They compete in bowling, basketball, track & field, volleyball, soccer, football, and cheerleading with the purpose of teaching these athletes how to work together as a team.

NCAA DIVISION III INITIATIVE

On August 1, 2011, the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) initiated a partnership with Special Olympics at the 2011 NCAA Convention. The purpose of the partnership is to improve the lives of Special Olympics athletes through their involvement with Division III student-athletes and to foster a mutual learning experience between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes; to provide a platform for recognition of Special Olympics athletes; and to raise awareness about Special Olympics and the programs and services provided.

The women's basketball program has had a rich tradition in teaming up with the Special Olympics and other similar programs over the last decade. For coach Hodgdon, giving back is equally as important as winning basketball games.

"When I got here the team had already established itself as a program that gave back to the community," said Hodgdon. "My goal was to further improve the way we interacted within the community and push our student-athletes to want to help out others as best as we could. A lot of credit goes to our players for what they have done with the Heller's Angels Special Olympics Team."

Plenty of members of the women's basketball team have gone on to work in the service field upon graduating from the College. Some of those members include:

Kristina Paolino '12 – ABA Therapist at the Institute of Professional Practice

Stephanie Walker '10 – Teacher's Assistant, Saint Joseph College Special Education

Callie Schneider '10 – Latin Teacher, Coach, Dorm Head at Canterbury School

Jenny Champney '10 – Teacher's Assistant, Wheelock, Elementary Education

Stephanie Michals '10 – Assistant Athletic Director at Kent Denver School; Girls JV Basketball Coach

Ida Kruse '10 – Rivendell School, Dorm Parent

Andrea Bailey '10 – Teacher's Assistant at Boston College; Assistant Wheaton College Coach

Krystin Hickey '09 – Teacher for Asperger's syndrome students at McLean Hospital;
                                      Worcester State graduate student (school counseling);     
                                       Assistant Basketball Coach Worcester State

Lauren Gosline '09 – Teacher's Assistant, Wheelock, Elementary Education

Kate Williams '05 – Social Worker in Portland, Oregon school system; Assistant Coach for Wheaton Basketball (06-08)

Bri Smith '09 – Teacher for Asperger's syndrome students at Mclean hospital

Becky Atchison '08 – Public Defender in Rhode Island

The Lyons return to action on Wednesday, November 28 as they travel to Coast Guard for their first New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) game of the season at 7 p.m.