Growing in game; Young players learn life lessons in PIPs

Published Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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Through the years, many young students at Slidell ISD have dreamed of being a Greyhound and representing their school on the hardwood in high school.

PIPS IN PLAY – Second-grader Carter Pierce performs during a Slidell pep rally last Friday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

But now, students get that chance at a young age through PIPs – Players in Progress, a program that teaches not only ball handling skills but also builds self-confidence and discipline.

Elementary Principal Theresa Stevens said the program instills basketball fundamentals and teaches the kids to work as a team.

“It keeps them involved and gives them something to look forward to, while teaching them how to balance their school work with sports and activities – life lessons,” she said.

The national program, which isn’t affiliated with the school district, is coached by Rhonda Weathers, an exercise physiologist. Her husband, pharmacist Matthew Weathers, and sister Shannon Meyer, a Slidell ISD teacher, assist and help coordinate this year’s 22 participants, ranging in age from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.

“One of the main things with PIP is everyone leaves a winner,” said Rhonda Weathers. “They work through a series of ball handling skills and start with a basic one, but with each skill there’s something you can advance to. It’s a performance group specializing in skills, drills and tricks – a program where all kids can participate and be a part of something.”

Weathers said goals of the program are to encourage an early interest in basketball and sports; encourage development of ball handling skills; improve agility, physical skills and general fitness; to stimulate individual work and self-discipline; and to build character.

The season runs October through March, and they have organized practice one hour per week. The group has eight to 10 performances per year, two of which are usually special performances at halftime of a college game or another special event and the remaining at halftime of Slidell home games. Weathers said PIPs also has all-star performances throughout the year in which individual students may participate.

“Just recently some of our kids went to Texas Tech and performed at one of their games,” she said. “Not only are they learning the skills, but also how to go out in front of a crowd, sometimes a rather large crowd, and perform what they’ve been practicing.”

This is Weathers’ sixth year to coach the program. Her favorite part is interacting with the kids.

“I love working with the kids and being able to see them practice and finally achieve something and do it proficiently,” she said. “It’s always rewarding for me to see them accomplish what they’ve been working toward.”

Stevens said she was surprised the first time she saw a performance.

“I didn’t realize what they were,” she said. “I thought it was shooting and what not, but they work strictly on drills. I was blown away by their talent and everything they’ve done.”

Weathers said the performances are special and a favorite of her daughters – Avery and Allison. The girls, along with their fellow PIPs participants, are looking forward to a performance Jan. 28 with the Harlem Globetrotters at Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco.

“It’s a fun, rewarding experience,” Weathers said.

The theme for this year’s PIP season is “making diamonds.” Weathers said the “pipology” focuses on working hard, bouncing back after failure, and the importance of everyone’s job.

“We also talk a lot about ‘practice makes permanent,’ not perfect, because you’ll still make mistakes,” she said. “And that’s OK.

“We try to reiterate to the kiddos that all the things you do to be a PIP are things you’ll have to do the rest of your life.”

If you want to catch a PIP performance, head north to Slidell for a home game or get tickets through Ticketmaster to the Jan. 28 Globetrotters game.

The PIPs season will conclude in March with a festival at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.

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