Tornadoes turn the page for youngsters

Since taking over the reins of the Hoover High boys’ basketball program last spring, Henrik Sardarbegian has had a clear agenda for the Tornadoes — aside from that of putting together a winning season on the court.

Beginning with his push to involve his players in a trash pickup and street beautification project in the immediate area surrounding the Hoover campus — an endeavor for which the Tornadoes received a commendation from the Committee for a Clean and Beautiful Glendale at a November banquet at the Glendale Elk’s Lodge — the first-year coach has put a high priority on community service.

The team’s participation in the Adopt-a-Block program got the ball rolling and that spirit of community involvement has led the Tornadoes to focus their time and efforts on the Hoover Buddy Reading Program at Mark Keppel Elementary.

“[Sardarbegian] actually wanted to do something [besides Adopt a Block] and I just said, ‘Can we do something with the kids?’” senior guard Shara Davoodi said. “You want to put in a good impression for Hoover to get them to want to come to Hoover rather than go somewhere else, and to show them that we care about them, care about our community and just to have a good name for our school.”

After listening to Davoodi’s ideas about a youth-oriented community service project, Sardarbegian came up with the idea of connecting with Mark Keppel.

“It’s kind of a mix of what I wanted us to do, and [Davoodi’s] idea of doing something that involves kids,” Sadarbegian said.

Since the 2007 winter recess, the Hoover boys’ basketball players have spent Wednesday mornings visiting first and third grade classrooms at the elementary school located just across the street from the high school campus.

During the 45-minute sessions, the players read to the students from books of the kids’ choosing and also help them with their reading development.

“The kids have a great time,” Mark Keppel Principal Mary Mason said. “It’s a great learning opportunity for our students to be read to by high school students and for the high school students to mentor a group of elementary kids.

“It’s a fabulous program and we really enjoy any opportunity we can to partner with Hoover.”

Mark Keppel is a year-round school that breaks its classrooms for one month three times in a calendar year. The classes visited by the Hoover players have been in recess throughout March, but players eagerly anticipate resuming the program when Mark Keppel’s classes reconvene April 7.

“I think it’s been a really good thing because we know their names now and they actually know our names,” Davoodi said. “They have a P.E. class next month when they come back and we’re probably going to go help them out and show them how to shoot and dribble and all the basics.”

Said Sardarbegian: “[Community service] will help the team build unity together and also show the community we’re more than just athletes playing for a high school. It also teaches the kids that to play high school sports is like a gift that they receive, it’s not something that should be taken lightly — you do have some outside responsibility.”

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