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For the past 5 years, students at St. Paul’s Lutheran school have been busy Bonding through basketball

Basketball players from St. Paul’s Lutheran, coached by Matt Pearson, have been reaching out and giving back to the community for the last five years, especially at Christmas time.

NEW ULM — When Matt Pearson began coaching the St. Paul’s Lutheran eighth grade boys’ basketball team four years ago, he knew he had a talented group of basketball players.

But he challenged that group to not only get better on the court, but off of the court, too. Pearson’s goal for that group was to work hard on the court and become better basketball players. But it didn’t stop there. He wanted them to work hard off the court too and give back to the community.

Since then, the group has worked together to assist many throughout the community, including helping with the buying of presents for children and helping the elderly by moving boxes from a house to a smaller living unit.

The team has won both on the court and off of it and the bond they’ve formed has been even better.

On the court

St. Paul’s players huddle around coach Matt Pearson during a timeout at The Minnesota Lutheran State Basketball Tournament hosted by Concordia St Paul.

The group came together as fourth graders and they had success on the court right away. They went 16-4 that first year and 18-3 as fifth-graders. The record grew to 26-1 in sixth grade and 29-2 in seventh grade. This past season, in their eighth-grade year, they finished 24-7 and took fourth at the state tournament.

“My initial thought was they were raw but they had some potential,” Pearson said. “Once we started formally practicing together and we set the tone for working hard and taking every drill seriously, then I got excited. I thought that this team could be something very special down the line if they keep working hard and by sixth, seventh or eighth grade when you take basketball maybe a little bit more seriously, this teams could win some games in tournaments. I was very optimistic.”

Over that five-year run, the players went 113-17, a winning percentage of 87%. Pearson said it was fun to watch the group get better as the years went on.

“I think the biggest improvement is that they bought into hard work and what offseason hard work is going to turn into in the season,” Pearson said. “We were getting better as a team, the bigs know the guards, the guards know the bigs, the pick and rolls are a little bit cleaner, the plays are a little bit cleaner, and the communication on defense during that eighth grade year was remarkable.”

Off the court

Basketball players from St. Paul’s Lutheran, coached by Matt Pearson, have been reaching out and giving back to the community for the last five years, especially at Christmas time.

Pearson wanted to make sure that they realized that basketball wasn’t the only thing they were focused on. He got them involved with volunteering at a young age and it stuck with them.

“Basketball is important to all these boys, but we as coaches and parents, we had a really cool opportunity, with these boys being so close, to teach them that life is more than just winning basketball games,” Pearson said. “It’s about helping people, it’s about contributing to your community, it’s growing your faith for us at St. Paul’s. We would have devotions that would be typically on Mondays, and then we just had parents that were very generous with their time and their research and we found some very cool projects. We lined up the boys and they seemed genuinely excited about it, they wanted to help out and spend time together.

“The first year was pretty good, but by the eighth-grade year, since they’ve done a few of these service projects already, it was fun to see the excitement in their eyes and their faces,” Pearson said. “They asked what we were going to do this year, they were asking me, which was pretty special.”

They’ve come together and assisted in helping some elderly people move, making the transition easier for everyone involved.

“They just know that as you get older, the elderly can’t do as many things as they used to,” Pearson said. “These are 14-year old strong boys, so they were happy to help.”

The group also partnered with the Southern Minnesota Cris Nursery by buying, wrapping and delivering gifts to the children as well as delivering gifts to the NUMAS Haus.

Pearson also said that many of them used their own money to help buy gifts for children who wouldn’t get to have many gifts at Christmas time. They also adopted several community families during the basketball seasons and bought, wrapped and delivered gifts and made meals for them, especially at Christmas (each player was assigned a family and purchased wish-list items off their Christmas list).

“We found some single parents in town that had children in need,” Pearson said. “They did not have an abundant amount of toys and things to play with, so we though Christmas time would be a perfect time to buy some extra toys and books. As a matter of fact, we asked these boys and girls what was on their Christmas wish list and they told their moms, and their moms forwarded that information to us. Each of our boys had a friend and they would go to Mankato, to Scheel’s, to Wal-Mart or wherever and pick out a couple of these items.

“Then one year at Vogel [Arena], we had a taco bar there and we met the other boys and girls, we played with them in the gym, swam with them in the pool and after we ate, we had a big Christmas day where we gave them a bunch of gifts and took some pictures,” Pearson said. “These boys and girls who didn’t open many gifts that Christmas, when they opened the gifts from our boys, they were very, very excited and it was fun to watch.”

Pearson won’t coach them next year as freshmen, but he’s proud of the people that they’ve become.

“I’m very, very blessed,” he said. “I consider it a privilege to teach these boys the game of basketball, teach them the dribble drives, teach them the man-to-man principles, teach them the full-court press, all of that stuff. They loved it and they did well, but it’s even more special to teach them about the more important things in life, caring for people, caring for the needy and keeping your eyes open for opportunities to help others and to serve. That’s what’s it’s all about.”

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