COLUMBIA, Mo (KMIZ)
COVID-19 changed the lives of athletes across the country, across all levels: college, high school, and even middle school.
In August, Columbia Public Schools decided to begin the school year virtually. While students were still allowed to participate in and practice sports, it's obviously not the same.
Pep Stanciel, a local basketball skills coach, had an all-in-one solution for student-athletes, specifically middle schoolers.
"How can we make sure these kids are still staying on pace academically, but also able to stay in the gym," Stanciel said. "Then when you have the NBA going to the bubble, I thought why not just create a training bubble."
During the week, Stanciel and and a group of middle school basketball players arrive at D-Line Sports to train at about 6:00 AM.
"They're training hard Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday," he said.
But after about an hour of training, the real "all-in-one," aspect begins to shine through: school.
"They finish with basketball and are just like ugh, you know, ready really to go to sleep if I’m being honest. But, I do get them logged in," said Tawnya Rivers, the bubble's tutor.
Rivers said she spends the school day making sure the group finishes their assignments, understands the material, and overall making the most of their school day.
But, she said it's really much more than school, it's a human connection in a time where that's still lacking.
"We thrive by connection and so when they're in this environment and they are learning, but they are also getting that time to just be," Rivers said. "Just be a kid still."
When classes end, Stanciel and his players start up another practice. Sure, it is about the technique, staying in shape, and understanding the game, but really it's turned into a lot more than just that.
“Regardless of where they go to school at, regardless of what route they choose, 100% we will always be in contact, because like I said, I’m like a big brother at this point," Stanciel said.
Stanciel said he is going to move forward with the idea, even when things begin returning back to normal in a post-COVID-19 world.
"We're actually hoping to begin our own school and with COVID happening, it just accelerated the idea," Stanciel said. "Showing proof that we can handle a preparatory school that values basketball just as much as the academics."
Stanciel added that he selected student-athletes that he felt appreciated and valued the opportunity to be together, training and learning, in a time where a lot of the world is apart.