A group of 5-year-olds lined up along the sideline of a practice gym at College Park Center, with members of the men’s basketball team across from them. Sophomore forward Patrick Mwamba stood central and squatted down low, almost eye level to the kids.
“Defense!” he yelled, as he quickly swung down both arms and smacked the court with his hands.
“I love it!” yelled the kids in response, imitating Mwamba’s actions.
This interaction was part of the many drills the men’s and women’s basketball teams led children from military families in as UTA hosted the third annual Hoops for Troops camp Saturday.
The camp is the result of a partnership between TD Ameritrade’s Veterans Initiative and UTA Athletics, said Jon Bowman, chairman of the TD Ameritrade Veterans Initiative. It began back in 2017 at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Fort Worth. This year, it was moved to College Park Center to give the veteran families a chance to see UTA’s facility up close. Children ages 12 and under with base access were able to participate in the camp for free.
Talby Justus, women’s basketball associate head coach, said there’s a mutual appreciation between the teams and military families as evidenced by how many families made the trip to Arlington.
“I know it’s just a short little period of time, but anytime you see great, young people having an opportunity to influence children, I think that’s a thing that can change those little kids’ lives,” he said.
Kids were separated by age group during the camp and spread out among both practice gyms at College Park Center. Athletes of both the men’s and women’s teams coached the children through drills such as defensive stances, jumping, shooting and dribbling in a fun environment.
Mwamba, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one of 13 siblings, said interacting with the camp attendees made him feel like a big brother. Helping the kids motivated him as if it were his own family, he said.
Krista Gerlich, women’s basketball head coach, said the camp was another opportunity to connect and give back to the community and say thank you to military families.
Chris Ogden, men’s basketball head coach, said giving back to the veteran community through impacting their children is special. He said he wants his players to understand and appreciate what veterans do for the country.
Eric Monostori, a 37-year Navy veteran, brought his 10-year-old son Gabriel to the camp for the first time and said it’s great to see college athletes be enthusiastic to inspire a younger generation of potential players.
The camp is a positive influence on kids so they can continue to pursue their education and to one day give back to the community, just as the UTA athletes did, Monostori said.
“School is not just all about going to school, but helping the community and furthering the community and the kids and their education and just being involved,” he said.
Dusty Sargent, a U.S. Army veteran, said he helped coordinate the camp in the two years it was held at the naval base. This year, he was able to step back and enjoy watching his 7-year-old son Isaac participate.
Sargent said TD Ameritrade wants to give back to the community and to veterans, and UTA allows them to put on the event for them.
“UTA, especially, they have a soft place in their heart for veterans,” he said. “It really hits home.”