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Padres Unified Camp connects basketball players of all abilities

By Joanna Chadwick

Waking Michael Hilt up in the morning is not easy on a normal day.

But Saturday Hilt was ready to go with no encouragement. It was the day he’d been waiting for — the Wichita Padres Unified Basketball Camp at Wichita Hoops.

Hilt, who attends Derby High, was one of 35 campers at the inclusive camp designed to teach the game of basketball to players of all ages and skill levels.

“As a parent of a special needs child, you soon realize that finding friends and activities that are paced right for your child is not going to be easy,” said Becky, Michael’s mom. “For us, Michael has been isolated much of his life to protect his health. When he is strong enough to do regular activities, there is nowhere to connect.

“Special needs kids want what every child wants: to fit in, to belong, to have someone acknowledge their abilities and to care about them.

“I was thrilled that the coaches and athletes of the Padres would give up a morning of their time to help the special needs athletes shine.”

Michael Hilt is a huge sports fan and he had so much fun with Derby sophomore guard Gavin Chadwick, who was his partner.

“Michael had a blast,” Becky Hilt said. “… He has been talking about it all week. Matching each child with a Padres player was a complete morale boost for Michael. He felt like he belonged.”

She loved seeing Michael smile and play the game he loves.

“To be able to watch him play brought me to tears,” she said. “To some people, this might just be another Saturday morning, but for us, this was a 5-star Saturday.”

McPherson junior Gabe Pyle was one of the 30 volunteers at the Padres’ camp, which was created by Padres founder Tyler Keim and Padres coach Bryan Chadwick.

“I felt it would be fun to help them learn basketball and get better at it,” said Pyle, a shooting guard/small forward for McPherson.

The player Pyle worked with was non-verbal and was struggling with some of the drills. Chadwick suggested the two work together on an adjoining court.

“We were rolling the ball to each other and worked on passing,” Pyle said. “He enjoyed bouncing the ball over my head and making me chase it.

“… It was fun working with the kid. He smiled a lot and laughed a lot. It was fun to see.”

Some of the coaches working the camp included Keim (Independent boys coach) Chadwick (Derby girls coach), Chuck Gunter (Wichita South boys coach), Ashton Petrisor (Derby girls assistant), Joe Jackson (Maize South boys coach), Matt Lawson (Douglass boys coach), Drew Culbertson (El Dorado boys coach), Drew Kraxner (Kingman boys coach), Paul Lange (Conway Springs boys coach), Josh Osborn (Derby North Middle School boys coach), Kiley Seidl (Padres), Nate Kelley (Padres), Courtne Smith (Padres) and Mike Woodman (Padres).

“What an amazing experience to watch the joy in these kids’ faces from the game of basketball,” Keim said. “The energy that they brought to the court today was contagious. I can’t wait to hold these camps next year. Thank you to the players and volunteers for coming out.”

For Chadwick, the camp was about sharing his passion for basketball with all levels of players.

“I had a mom tell me her older son goes to camp and her other son, who has Down Syndrome, always asks if he can go,” Chadwick said. “He was so excited about coming to the Padres camp today because it was for him.

“I want to give all kids the same experiences.”

The volunteers also included about two dozen Padres’ players in addition to Pyle. They were Cooper Chadwick, Gavin Chadwick, Corbin Johnson, Eli Benning, Collin Laws, Zac Zimmerman, RayJ Logan, Preston Looney, Evan Chavez, Charlie Clinton, Ryan Cary, Quincy Burrow, Braeden Schulte, Noah Vermillion, Jackson Vermillion, Aven Mboule, Ansen Mboule, Joshua Smith, Dean Keim, Addie Fuller, Brentli Drum, Paisley Lies, Parker Bailey, Blair Hollenbeck and Chloe Dowell.

“It was a vibrant atmosphere filled with laughter and joy just to play basketball,” said Cooper Chadwick, who attended Derby and played for the 17U team. “Everyone just wanted to have fun and play basketball — no drama or anger, just basketball.”

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