At Knapp Elementary in Racine, Wisconsin, Zyaire Strowder, the community school coordinator and Coach Z to her students, transforms the school into a pickleball haven every Wednesday. During her time as the school’s basketball coach, she noticed students asking about pickleball in the hallways. This led her to start an after school club for children to try something new.
The pickleball club was created during a brainstorming session between Strowder and a colleague. They discussed what other schools in the community were offering, and eventually, the Racine Area Pickleball Club and Zane Navratil, a pickleball pro and Racine native, donated paddles and balls for the children to use. Additionally, United Way purchased a net, which Strowder used to gauge the student’s interest.
The club is open to third through fifth graders and is growing with community support. The students had never heard of pickleball before, but they were excited to try it, especially with Coach Z as their guide.
Although Strowder had played basketball at a Division One level, she had never played pickleball. She was honest with the children, telling them that she was learning too and that she also made mistakes. For her, the most crucial aspect of the club was for the children to have fun, learn, and make mistakes without judgment.
“It is great to see them advance on a physical level within a sport, but just mentally, that’s where I’m most proud,” Strowder said. “I hear some of the things that they say throughout the day, and they’ll catch me and are like, ‘Hey, I had a hard time earlier, I remember you told me that I can do it, so I got through it, and I feel good.’ That makes me feel great as a person. Okay, wow, these kids are listening, and it’s important that I’m instilling the correct things in them because they’re going to carry it with them everywhere that they go.”
The community in which Knapp Elementary is located lacks safe areas for children to try new things, which is why Strowder feels it is essential to bring activities like pickleball to the school since it is a place that children already trust, love, and attend every day. Strowder observed that the children can be proud of themselves after overcoming physical and mental challenges. The confidence they gain carries over to their everyday lives, and she’s thrilled to play a small role in shaping their futures.
Currently, the group comprises approximately ten students, with Strowder leading the children through different drills focused on teaching them pickleball. All of the kids wear smiles as they continue to practice and learn the new sport, even though some students may have a natural aptitude for the game.
Two students from the group said that Coach Z is an excellent teacher and that they have learned a lot from her drills. Strowder is proud of her students’ progress and takes pride in the fact that she can help break down the barriers that children face in their community.
“There’s times when I’m tired and I don’t really want to come to work, but then I get to think about those children, right, and hang out with them, spend my lunch with them, see what’s going on, and it just kind of makes it worth it. When I’m also provided opportunities to lift some of the barriers that they’re facing in this area, I just feel really good about myself as a person, and I just want to continue to do it.” Says Strowder
Strowder hopes to expand the program to other schools in the area as the club grows. However, to do so, she will need more paddles to ensure that more children can participate.
Strowder finds it rewarding to spend time with the children and provide opportunities that could positively impact their lives. For further information about Knapp Elementary School, the pickleball program, and how you can contribute, you can reach them directly at 262-664-8000. The school address is 2701 17th St, Racine, WI 53405.
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