Hoosiers give assist to after-school program

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By Christopher BurbachWorld-Herald staff writer

Omaha fourth-grader John Pargo and a bunch of his buddies have a new favorite team to cheer for in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament: Jordan Fuchs and the Indiana Hoosiers.

And there’s someone else rooting for John Pargo and a bunch of his buddies: Jordan Fuchs and the Indiana Hoosiers.

The ballers from Indiana visited a north Omaha after-school program Wednesday of the Abide Network, a faith-based non-profit that’s working to transform some of the city’s grittiest neighborhoods.

The Hoosiers don’t play until Friday. They had time and a desire, coach Tom Crean said, to do something good for the community, and to learn something about life. They made the connection through Creighton University to Abide, a ministry that former Bluejay basketball player Josh Dotzler helps his parents run.

“We have the youngest team in the tournament,” Crean said. “It’s very important to know there’s never any sense of entitlement, never any sense of expectation; what matters is what you do for other people.”

He said he hoped his ballplayers would encourage and inspire the children.

“These kids are not forgotten,” Crean said. “These kids have a future.”

About 20 children from kindergarten through sixth grade attend the after-school program in an Abide Network community center at 1723 N. 33rd St. The children have a meal. They study, often with volunteer tutors. They work on life lessons.

Dotzler told the ballplayers Wednesday that most of the murders in Omaha over the past five years have happened in neighborhoods not far from the center. But he said Abide is working from several angles to help people improve their lives in those neighborhoods.

“We dream of people flying into Omaha to see what the heck happened here,” Dotzler told the team and coaches. “You guys are the first ones to do it.”

He gave the players and children an assignment: Talk about what you want to do with your lives. Talk about what you have to do to make that happen. Write it down.

The players paired up with children around round tables. Some kids were ready to jump right in, such as a 6-year-old boy who repeatedly air-dribbled and shot to demonstrate his crossover-and-step-back jumper. Others had to be coaxed to talk, such as a girl who hid under the hood of her coat, and Pargo, who prefers football to basketball. But they all had dreams to share: Army pilot, basketball player, Broadway actress, police officer, and so on.

Everyone cheered as the children and Hoosiers read their reports.

Fortunately for Pargo, Indiana has a basketball player who also plays football: Jordan Fuchs.

Pargo, 10, a Franklin Elementary student, told Fuchs he wants to play professional football. If that doesn’t work out, he’d like to teach physical education. To make that happen, John said he’ll have to “be good, follow directions, help people, be good in the classroom, go to high school and college.”

As the event wound down, Fuchs said he had been surprised to hear of concentrated crime in Omaha. He said he appreciated the opportunity to do something nice for young people.

“I like helping kids, hanging out with them,” he said. “It’s something I enjoy.”

Pargo summed up the experience in a word: “Good.”

As the players filed out to hearty handshakes after more than an hour at the center, Fuchs lingered with Pargo, leaning over to talk to the child, then patted him on the back before leaving.

“He told me to just keep my head up,” Pargo said.

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