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Community Mentors

Decked out in his Potsdam Bears sweatsuit and unlaced Nike kicks, Colton Huestis ’24 crouches over to speak with a group of fourth graders lined up for a shooting drill at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School—part of a unique basketball clinic led by the men’s basketball team for more than 100 elementary students from six different classrooms at the local school.

“We are very excited to be partnering with Lawrence Ave Elementary! Having our players work with the students is a tremendous opportunity for our program to give back to the Potsdam community."

Jim Bechtel Potsdam Bears Men's Basketball Coach

"We talk to our players regularly about the positive impact they can have in the area, and this will be something that these kids will remember for a long time.  It's great to watch our players interact with the elementary students and see how much fun they have with each other. These kids teach our guys just as much by showing them the impact that a college student can have on a young person just by showing up and giving some of their time.  It's a fantastic lesson for our guys to learn.”

Jim Bechtel

In the fall of 2023, the team led a basketball clinic for 40 students at Lawrence Avenue Elementary and then expanded their community involvement by returning for a more in-depth basketball event that ran from Jan. 2 to Jan. 5, 2024. Already back at SUNY Potsdam after the holiday break, the team was practicing every day at Maxcy Hall for their upcoming games, while also finding the time to volunteer at the local school where they ran a skills clinic focused on dribbling, passing, and shooting.

After a break during the pandemic, Sean Scordo ’19, one of two physical education teachers at the school, was excited to rekindle the longtime collaboration between the elementary school and College, which began nearly two decades ago. “The interactive sessions not only enhanced the elementary students' basketball prowess but also fostered a sense of teamwork and camaraderie among the aspiring athletes,” said Scordo. “We had the SUNY Potsdam athletes talk about their majors and it was nice to have the kids see the connection between student and athlete, especially for a lot of our kids who love physical education. They say, ‘I want to be in the NBA, or I want to go to the NHL,’ but it’s nice for them to see these guys are also in school. Yes, they’re playing sports, but they’re also pursuing a secondary career.”

The connections between Lawrence Avenue Elementary School and SUNY Potsdam have remained strong over the years. Students from the College’s teacher education program have continued to gain real-world experience honing their craft in the elementary school’s classrooms, and numerous alumni have accepted jobs at the school over the years, including Joanna Cross ’09. In 2007, when Cross was working at the school as a kindergarten teacher, while also completing her master’s degree in literacy at SUNY Potsdam, she reached out to then Potsdam Bears’ basketball coach Sherry Dobbs to see if the team would like to lead a basketball clinic at the school. Her husband, Eddie Cross ’11, who now works in the College’s Office of Student Accounts and as the associate coach for the Potsdam Bears men’s basketball team, was a member of that first team that led clinics at Lawrence Avenue Elementary back in the late 2000s. 

“During the championship runs here at Potsdam, our crowd was a big factor in making Potsdam a tough place to play. This was mainly due to our students but also the strong fan base throughout the Potsdam community,” Cross said. “Jerry Welsh did a phenomenal job keeping the community involved by having his players engaged with the community and we take pride in continuing that tradition.”

Article and Photos by Jason Hunter