Champions of Character


Anika Neuman poses with the kids of Newman Elementary School.

Alicia Thompson, Sports Editor

The NAIA Women’s Basketball National Tournament in Billings, Montana, was full of basketball, film sessions, and team activities that led up to a formal banquet Tuesday night and the big game on Wednesday.

The Lady Mustangs fought hard last Wednesday, but ended up losing 71-51 to No. 2 team Freed Hardeman of Tennessee in the first round.

But the difficult loss was followed up by a far easier experience as the Lady Mustangs got the opportunity to go to Newman Elementary School to spend time with the kids there.

“To be honest my favorite part of the trip was getting to spend time with those little ones,” said forward Aunika Neuman. “The minute we stepped foot on their campus, you could feel the love.”

The NAIA league assigned teams to work with different schools in the area as part of the planned week, and the Mustangs were given Newman Elementary.

“All the kids were lined up waiting for us with personal signs for each of our players,” said freshman Jacqueline Mallet. “The kids were separated into 5 different color-coordinated groups, which they called ‘homes.’ Each of our players had to spin a wheel to find out what home they belonged to.”

The Lady Mustangs played far less intense basketball with the kids of Newman Elementary School than the tournament game.

“Both are experiences to remember,” Mallet said. “Both were such an honor to be a part of, and both made us want to work hard to return to the tournament next year. They are our motivators.”

Following such an intense week, the love and energy of the kids offered a nice respite and reminded the team of what it was like to play when they were younger.

“Being there reminded me of why I do what I do as a basketball player,” Neuman said. “Obviously first to honor the Lord, but also to be an example to the next generation.”

The little time spent at Newman Elementary School encouraged the Lady Mustangs and gave them a chance to share their light with the kids there.

“Just being with them for a few hours, we had the opportunity to show them what we’re about, not only as athletes but who we are as people,” Neuman said. “I’m so glad we got to impact their lives in a tiny way for a short amount of time – but sometimes that’s all it takes.”