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Harlem Globetrotters 'ambassadors of goodwill'

By Judy Hamilton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although the team is mostly know for providing entertainment through cool basketball tricks, the other, lesser known, mission for the Harlem Globetrotters is to make the world a better place. They have been thrilling families for 88 consecutive years, all while innovating basketball and doing good. 

"I enjoy the fact that our family entertainment allows me to look into the audience and see a seven-year and a 70-year old laughing just the same," said Globetrotter Anthony "Buckets" Blakes.

In Charleston ahead of the March 11 and 12 performances, Buckets came to the Mountain State early to spread some good will -- and to present the "ABC's of Bullying Prevention" program to students at Chesapeake Elementary School on Feb. 28.

The interactive program focuses on action, bravery and compassion, but Buckets used his team's signature ball-handling skills and humor for a presentation that both informed and entertained.

It is one of several programs the team supports aimed at the young audiences. Like "Do the Write Thing," an effort to help students communicate what they think should be done to reduce youth violence. Through classroom discussions and writings, students make personal commitments to do something about this problem.

Blakes said the team participates in charities because it is part of their tradition.  He explained the Harlem Globetrotters formed in 1926 and as African-Americans experienced discrimination. 

"We did a lot of barnstorming. It was hard for us to be promoted as African-Americans and our charity work just branched out from there.  We had a chance to influence people and we decided to do it in the best way we can.  We broke the color barrier and it is in our team DNA to do good," he said.

Barnstorming is a term for touring an area -- particularly rural ones and making brief stops in many small towns -- playing exhibition games or staging theatrical performances.  In the Harlem Globetrotters case, it was both.

Another program the team is involved with is SPIN, or Some Playtime Is Necessary.

"We encourage children to stay physically active 60 minutes a day for six weeks to help fight childhood obesity," Blakes said.

And that's not all.

At the Hoops Family Children's Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital, the 6'2" Buckets was on hand to bring the "Harlem Globetrotter's Smile Patrol, " aimed at lifting the spirits of children unable to attend a Globetrotters game.

"We go to hospitals and try to get as many smiles as possible from the children," he said, remembering the shared laughs he had with young patients -- in between posing for photos, signing autographs and showing some of his Globetrotter basketball wizardry skills.

He said the team also is active in C.H.E.E.R. -- Cooperation of Healthy mind and body, Effort, Enthusiasm, Responsibility -- a program that encourages students to match their actions with those five character traits in all their life experiences.

Across the U.S. and globally, the Globetrotters promote their partnership with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that works with communities around the world to provide long-term solutions to poverty.

Through programs in 100 communities around the world, "they commit to stay for 15 years to help the community become self-sustaining. They do research to find area leaders that can assist in those poverty stricken areas," Buckets said. 

The well-traveled Globetrotter said he has been to 74 countries with the team and recently spent eight days in Honduras.

"It's one of the best experiences I've ever had. The meaning happened after I was immersed in the situation.  I got to watch World Vision's philosophy manifest. They took a community where they had no water, sick babies, and no health care and supplied fresh water, taught agriculture, established medical care, taught hygiene, and established a savings bank for them to invest in their own community. The opportunity to sponsor a child was the icing on the cake," he said.

The father of three children puts his psychology degree to good work mentoring children in his spare time, but he said he's not judgmental about other people's level of volunteer work: "Everyone's different and we're all unique.  We all do what we can in our own way.  For me, it's just how I live."

Other than all the crazy tricks the Globetrotters have on display during their games, fans seem to love having a voice in some of the rules the players have to play by - they can visit harlemglobetrotters.com to vote for what zany rules will be played during the "Fans Rule" World Tour. 

The Globetrotters were the first organization in sports and entertainment to let fans vote on rules when the team introduced the concept last year.  The fan response was so great, the team is doing it again - but with zanier rules to choose from, like "Hot Hand Jersey" where double points are given for baskets made by whoever is wearing the hot hand jersey, or the "Trick Shot Challenge," where the other team is challenged to a trick shot, if they make it, they gain five points, miss, the other team gets five points.

There are three other rules to choose, including "Two Ball Basketball" where the game is played with two basketballs at the same time.

Fans will get an opportunity to dance along with the world famous team at their Charleston and Huntington performances. This season, the Globetrotters are incorporating the "Trotter Bounce" into their show, created by choreographer Mark Ballas of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

The Harlem Globetrotters will perform at the Charleston Civic Center at 7 p.m. on March 11 and at Huntington's Big Sandy Superstore Arena at 7 p.m. on March 12.

To see the team known as the "Ambassadors of Goodwill," tickets for the Charleston show can be purchased at the Charleston Civic Center, 304-345-7469, or at www.harlemglobetrotters.com through Ticketmaster.  Tickets range from $21.75 -$102.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.hamilton@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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