Oct 24, 2012, 10:39 PM EDT
Located in downtown South Bend, the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center is less than a year old. The 110,000 square-foot facility is meant to be a gathering place for education, sports, faith, arts, and supportive programs. It is also undeniably beautiful.
Walking into the lobby, the first thing you see is a glass and wire art piece hanging in the center of the room. The space is bright and open, with a food counter and a big glass window that gives you a glimpse of the expansive pool in the back (complete with a winding water slide). If you head to the left, you’ll find the gymnasium.
As men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey walked into the Kroc gym on Oct. 23, he remarked how incredible the gym is.
“This is what I want our practice facility to look like,” he laughed.
It is the quality of the space—designed to provide life-changing experiences for children and adults in the area—that led Brey to inquire about hosting a practice for his team at the Kroc Center.
“Coach Brey came over here to talk with the South Bend clinic on a cancer issue, and while he was here he saw our building and said, ‘Wow, I need to come here and do a practice,’” recalled Senior Kroc Officer Bob Webster. “That’s kind of how it started, and we’ve just been communicating and ever since.”
The product of their communication came in the form of an open practice in the Kroc’s gym. The men’s basketball team came to the center on Oct. 23 to complete their usual workout, but this time they had a bit of an audience.
Starting at 6:15 p.m., the gym was open to anyone who wanted to attend, but kids were lining the halls of the Kroc for hours beforehand.
“The last couple of days have been really exciting as they’ve been finding out,” explained Webster. “They say, ‘Really? Really? It’s going to happen? Can I come in early? I want to be here early.’ Some of them have been here waiting since 2 o’clock wanting to come in.”
The kids weren’t disappointed when the gym doors finally opened. The practice wasn’t just about watching—everyone was able to interact with the players and Coach Brey. Kids lined up to shoot free throws and take layups with the players before the team started their usual drills. Some kids were so small they barely came up to the student-athletes’ knees. As the young kids watched the team practice, they were also able to chat with the Notre Dame leprechaun, who also stopped by for the event.
The day was about more than just basketball. Webster explained how bringing the Notre Dame team to the kids of the Kroc Center actually provides many of these kids with an opportunity or an inspiration they might not have otherwise received.
“So many times the kids just feel like there’s no way they can ever connect, or sometimes they’re actually larger than life figures,” Webster said. “So what we’re trying to do here is help the kids understand that you too can get an education and go to college and do exactly what they’re doing.
Perhaps what everyone was most excited for was the chance for autographs after the practice. Players were set up in one of the Kroc’s meeting rooms, and all the visitors were given a poster of this year’s team to take through the line to collect signatures. The players also received many requests for pictures (one little boy was so small, he had to stand on a chair to get into the frame with the ND players).
“Are you a White Sox fan?” Scott Martin asked a boy in a Sox hat. The boy—no older than five—nodded shyly.
“That’s too bad,” Martin remarked, referencing his love of the Cubs.
But he can be sure that everyone in that room was a fan of Fighting Irish basketball.
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