AKRON  It was a loud, energetic scene at James A. Rhodes Arena as the University of Akron women’s basketball team hosted its fourth-annual Education Day game.

The Zips battled Bucknell on Nov. 30 in a non-conference game that saw more than 1,300 spectators - including hundreds of local middle school students - fill the lower bowl of the arena, all built around the idea of linking hoops and the classroom.

Candace Smith, the program’s director of basketball operations, helped organize the event and despite a 61-47 loss, was happy with how the event turned out.

“I think this year was the best year yet,” Smith said. “We had over 1,300 spectators in attendance and we are really hoping to continue growth by possibly adding another grade in the near future.”

All of the students who attended this year’s event were local fifth-graders, but the idea of adding another grade level underscores how well the day went. Before and after the game, yellow school buses lined Carroll Street in front of the area, loading and unloading students and teachers who filed inside, looking forward to the chance for fun outside the classroom.

Every student received a packet and folder with different activities and work that connected what they were seeing on the court with educational concepts. During the game, which tipped off at 10:30 a.m., students also received a bag lunch and once the contest was over, they were dismissed to their buses by school, much like students are dismissed from school assemblies by class or grade level.

Before and during the game, the young crowd sang and danced enthusiastically to music by artists such as Drake, prompting one of the officials working the game to jokingly note that she, as an adult, didn’t recognize any of the songs and suddenly felt “very old.”

During the game, the video display on the main scoreboard at the arena showed videos of UA players answering questions about what they enjoyed and looked forward to most when they were in fifth grade and some of their answers drew laughs from the crowd.

The idea of Education Day is one the Zips started four seasons ago based on the success other programs had with similar events.

“Every year it has seemed to grow which is very exciting for us,” Smith said. “It really started as something that our head coach, Jodi Kest, had seen done by other programs and she made it a goal of hers to begin the tradition of holding an Education Day here at Akron.”

In building the concept, the Zips have tried to focus everything on students’ core subjects. The packets students received have a curriculum approved for their grade level, which is put together with the intent of making the game more than just a chance to be noisy and silly and get out of school for the morning.

Still, there’s no denying that many of the students took full advantage of the chance to scream, cheer and move, putting their vocal support behind the home team from the opening tip. When the Zips edged ahead at halftime, the students were even louder and as Bucknell pulled ahead for the win in the second half, the crowd did its best to rally the home team. Another favorite element of the day for many students was the presence of Zippy, the mascot for the university.

When Zippy made an appearance in the stands in the second half, it drew a mass of enthusiastic fifth graders, all waving their folders and papers and asking their favorite kangaroo for an autograph.

At the end of the contest, Bucknell walked away with a win, but the students who came out for the game left with smiles on their faces despite the final score.

“The feedback that we receive from the teachers and students is always wonderful,” Smith said. “We have even received positive feedback from some of our donors and season ticket holders that have had the opportunity to attend the game. It really makes for an exciting atmosphere and I think our players and coaches look forward to the experience every year.” 

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or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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