Ebony is a 9-year-old South African girl who Pat McDonald won’t soon forget.
“Her smile, it lit up the whole world,” recalls Pat, a Lakeland College freshman from Port Washington, Wis.
“Ever since I’ve left South Africa, I’ve had this strong feeling that I have to go back. That’s how much of an impact this experience had on me.”
Pat, a starting point guard on the Muskies men’s basketball team, recently spent more than a week in South Africa teaching children the game of basketball. His invitation came from the instructor of a point guard camp he had attended a few years back.
“I was really thankful he chose me,” says Pat, who joined a group of basketball instructors from Australia, Texas, Mississippi and Boston in South Africa. “It was one of the most memorable experiences ever.”
After about 20 hours of flying, McDonald joined the other instructors for a few days of sightseeing and mountain climbing. They toured the prison where late President and icon Nelson Mandela was once held. Pat also discovered a new least-favorite animal.
“I learned never to trust baboons,” he says with a laugh. “I was almost attacked by one, and it was probably the most frightening experience of my life. We were at a nature preserve, and they were running around. They seemed pretty friendly, but one lunged at me. I took off.”
Fortunately, teaching basketball to enthusiastic kids was a much more comfortable experience for Pat and the other instructors. They traveled to various townships and communities and worked with the children on the finer points of the game. While rugby and soccer are South Africa’s most popular sports, McDonald says the youngsters took to basketball and did well. In all, he estimates he worked with about 100 kids.
“It was incredible,” he says of the experience. “I think the best part was the kids’ energy. The whole trip, I just couldn’t stop smiling.”