Davis Elementary School is one of 6 schools preparing for Leonard Shearer March Madness Youth Basketball event

7:07 PM, Mar 30, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- A team of young athletes prepares for a basketball battle, surrounded by cheering crowds, faithful fans, and coaches who believe in them.

"This is their chance to be part of a team and to shine," says coach Elyse Silver.

Her team, made up of Davis Elementary School students who have dealt with behavioral or emotional issues, is one of six teams getting the chance to shine on the basketball court through the Leonard Shearer March Madness Youth Basketball event.

This is the tournament's 19th year, and the whole event is organized by local nonprofit Success 4 Kids and Families.

This version of March Madness may not include brackets or lots of television coverage, but it's a unique opportunity for these students, whose schools don't have organized sports programs.

"It teaches kids not only teamwork and sportsmanship, but it's also about the community coming out and supporting them," Silver says.

And to shine on the court, they have to shine in the classroom first.

"March Madness made me realize what it's like to play on a team instead of by yourself," says Thomas, a former athlete in the event.

"He was very violent, very angry," Silver says of Thomas when she met him several years ago.

Back then, he was an abused child up for adoption. But she says his behavior changed through basketball, and he was especially motivated by the chance to compete in March Madness.

"He was so proud of putting on his jersey. He was just beaming," she recalls. "And then, one day after practice, he asked me, "Will you be my mom? I couldn't say no."

Silver has since adopted two other athletes from Davis Elementary, making them a family and a team.

"I was lucky," Thomas says. "I got what I wanted, and now I'm doing well. We have to work together in order for us to achieve our goal."

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