Healthy Hoops - Take Your Best Shot

Healthy Hoops - Activity for kids with asthma

D’Andre was never that interested in basketball. Sure, he’d shoot some ball with friends on the playgrounds around his Philadelphia home, but he wasn’t on a team and didn’t follow the sport on television. In many ways, D’Andre fit the mold of many teenagers with asthma: no physical activity. No running. No jumping. No getting out of breath. No. No. No.

And of course, his mother kept eagle-eye watch over him.

“I was afraid,” admitted D’Andre’s mother, Antoinette Daniels, whose son Jayden also has asthma. “If they were playing too hard or running too much, I’m like, ‘You have to slow down,’. I was thinking they may have an asthma attack. So I kind of held them back a little.”

Six years ago, after spending most of his life hearing what his asthma prevented him from doing, D’Andre finally got some good news. Healthy Hoops, a basketball program for youth that improves health through physical activity, had caught his mother’s eye. D’Andre agreed to check out the program. He hasn’t stopped going since.

Now 17, D’Andre still plays ball with the Healthy Hoops program, along with brothers Jamar (10) and Jayden (7). To Daniels, the experience has proven to be a gift to the whole family.

“The kids get a lot out of the program,” Daniels said. “It helps kids who may not even be interested in basketball, or who may not have been interested in sports at all. It’given them a different outlook on getting into sports and other things.”

More than just a place to play basketball, Healthy Hoops operates as an educational resource for families. The program began in West Philadelphia in an effort to address the high rates of asthma patients in the region. But the program’s larger goal quickly emerged: to create a program that not only changes the lives of children affected by asthma but sparks and educational transformation for families. To achieve this goal, Healthy Hoops implements a multi-faceted approach.

First, the program focuses on creating a coalition of educators and influential individuals. It partners with local doctors, pulmonary specialists and allergy specialists who are fully-engaged in teaching parents and kids how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Full-time asthma educators continue to devote their attention to Health Hoops, nurses are involved in physical education courses, and basketball provides an ideal attraction for youth. Philadelphia is flooded with high-profile coaches at all levels of the game, and the program has developed a history of educating some of these coaches on how to get kids with asthma involved in the Healthy Hoops program and onto the basketball court.

Among the first hurdles in the development of the program, however, was the quick realization that coaches needed to be given a strong base of knowledge about children with asthma.

“We started educating the coaches in the schools about kids with asthma and the coaches would say, ‘Oh we never let them play. We see them. We know they can’t breathe so we keep them on the bench,’” said Maria Pajil Battle, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs of the Keystone Mercy Health Plan. “I said, ‘No! No! No! We can’t do this.’ So we started educating coaches and they became so involved with the program.”

Before long, Heathy Hoops had set up on-site stations and opportunities for kids to get their asthma exams at local clinics before they began to play basketball. In short, the primary goal of Healthy Hoops has always been to help children in the management of their asthma. Participation in the program requires full physicals and health screenings to assess each child’s health status, medications and use. The program also aims to help kids create an action plan for their health and regularly evaluates their results. The outcome is a community of learning that includes doctors, specialists, basketball coaches, kids and, yes, parents and siblings.

Though she works with Healthy Hoops in an adminis- trative and advisory capacity, Battle says she knows the difficulties of living with asthma, first-hand.

“When I was a kid, I had asthma and we had to get rid of our dog. And my brothers and sisters wanted to get rid of me!” Battle said. “They were kids, and they didn’really have an understanding of my condition. So nowwith Healthy Hoops, we’re helping them understand, helping whole families understand how to get this health concern under control. That’s what we’re really trying to do: educate the entire family, take control, take personal responsibility, and understand the management of taking your drugs.”

Parental participation is a mandatory component for families who engage with the Healthy Hoops program. While the kids learn to hoop it up on the court, parents go through workshops that encourage health management tips and lifestyle information, both for their children and for themselves. For example, a parent who smokes may know not to do so around her asthmatic child, but might not know that even going outside for a smoke break and returning can damage her child’s lungs and respiratory system.

For Antoinette Daniels, the professional insight Healthy Hoops provides into her sons’ condition has made the program invaluable. “Information helps. It really does,” Daniels said. “A lot of people may only go to the doctor as needed, so they may not get all the information and hear the stories. You get more information going through a program like Healthy Hoops. It’s like a big support group for parents. You may not know a lot of people there, but everyone’s sharing their stories with one another.”

Granted, it’s rarely easy for parents to feel comfortable turning their children over to a program might suggest a radical change in lifestyle. While everyone around the kids has told them to slow down and take it easy, the Healthy Hoops program encourages them to become more proactive and more physically taxed.

In an effort to ease that transition, Healthy Hoops often lures heavyweights of the basketball community to engage with its students directly. Since its genesis in Philadelphia, the program has expanded to South Carolina, Kentucky and other parts of Pennsylvania while drawing stars like Sonny Hill and Speedy Jones into community partnerships, as well as former Saint Joseph’s and current Orlando Magic basketball player Jameer Nelson—who himself has asthma.

For Daniels, the program’s efforts to bring in starpower as a method of motivating and connecting with students have gently persuaded parents it’s okay for their kids to run and jump and play basketball.

“Just hearing the stories helps,” Daniels said. “Hearing about athletes who have asthma and hearing about how far they’ve come. They’re athletes and have asthma. So I’m feeling like, ‘Oh, OK. Maybe my child can go out there and do what he wants to.’As long as they’re taking their medication and having that control, then they can do it.”

As Daniels has grown more comfortable with allowing her sons a broader sense of freedom, the Healthy Hoops program continues to inspire and educate other families throughout the country, spreading a message of healthy living and promoting healthy communities.

“Responsibility is a factor in any disease, whether it’s diabetes or high blood pressure,” Battle said. “It’s all about being personally responsible, taking control of your health, understanding your numbers, and ultimate- ly controlling what goes on in your own body.”

by Josh Pate

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Articles in the Greg Louganis Issue; Ashley’s Column — Bringing Home the Gold; Sen. Tom Harkin — Where Are the Jobs?; Renne Gardner — Running With My Son; The Pearls — Stories That Demand to Be Heard; Amy Edwards — A Living Special Effect; Adaptive Sports — Getting Back in the Game; X Games Uncovered — Taking the Inside Track; Cityzen — A Whole New Voice in Rock and Roll; Adaptive Sailing — Finding Your Sea Legs; Greg Louganis — Still Diving Into Life; HIV and AIDS — Battling a Fatal Disease; Bad Boys — Cracking Down on Discrimination; Healthy Hoops — Take Your Best Shot ; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

Excerpts from the Greg Louganis Oct/Nov 2010 Issue:

Greg Louganis — Interview

The Pearls — Stories That Demand to Be Heard

Adaptive Action Sports — Getting Back in the Game

X Games Uncovered — Taking the Inside Track

Toby Forrest with the Band Cityzen

Renne Gardner — Running With My Son

Healthy Hoops — Take Your Best Shot

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