Book smarts, ball smarts

LINCOLN — Shoot. Swish. Score.

The same competitively-charged atmosphere created by the Doniphan-Trumbull Cardinals in the first round of the Class C-2 boys state basketball tournament Thursday has been practiced in Corey Hatt’s math class for several seasons now.

The third-year high school math teacher knows that utilizing sports analogies and activities in the classroom resonates with his students. So, at the end of each text book chapter, he does a basketball-oriented review game.

“We do it to study for tests. The students answer questions to get points and earn free throws. I have a mini basketball hoop set up in my class for the games,” said Hatt, who is also the school’s head cross country coach and an assistant track coach. “Their competitive spirit translates into the classroom.”

During Thursday’s first-round game against Sutton, Hatt and his wife Megan, who teaches high school special education at Doniphan-Trumbull, were two of many teachers who added to the deafening din of Cardinal spirit coming from the stands at Lincoln Southeast High School.

The couple donned spirit wear and dressed their 4-month-old daughter, Jaylee, in a black onesie that had a red D-T logo ironed on the front. All ages are welcome in the Doniphan-Trumbull community, the young teachers have learned.

“I think this is a very close-knit community. We call this our DT family,” Megan said. “These kids are high achievers all the way around. The team they have on the court they carry with them into class.”

Deb Hartman, wife to head basketball coach Steve Hartman, can also testify that athletic spirit is closely connected to the life of students in the Doniphan-Trumbull community.

Hartman teaches fifth grade reading, writing and social studies and her language arts students recently compiled a March Madness book activity where they chose 64 of their favorite books to be included in a language arts challenge. It was a hit.

“We vote them off, narrowing it down to a sweet 16, then final four and so on,” Hartman said. “It’s a fun thing for the kids.”

The use of sports analogies in class is almost second-nature to Deb, as athletics have permeated the life of the Hartman family for a long time.

Steve played football at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and has served as a coach, activities director and physical education teacher at several high schools. He now teaches high school alternative education and fifth- and sixth-grade physical education in Doniphan.

Deb and Steve have two kids — Jay and Abbie — who are now teachers themselves. Jay was part of three state championship basketball teams during his career at Beatrice High School and, next weekend, he will coach his own group of high school basketball players in the South Dakota state tournament.

“My kids lived at the gym with their dad. Athletics has been a big part of all of our lives,” Hartman said.

The tie between sports and school starts from a young age, especially in a tight-knit community like Doniphan, Deb said. Steve leads basketball camps for kindergartners where Deb says he can already see the makings of future athletes. Then, when students reach high school, their participation in athletics creates accountability for the kids by encouraging time management skills, teamwork, selflessness and healthy eating and exercising habits.

“You’re always held accountable for grades when you’re out for athletics, so it kind of helps some kids stay on the ball whereas if they weren’t participating maybe they wouldn’t care as much,” said Jeff Keasling, assistant basketball coach for Doniphan-Trumbull and a special education teacher. “It’s nice to give students an outlet for success in sports and in the classroom.”

“It starts very young. The current athletes are huge role models for the younger kids, so if they do well in school it really encourages the others to do well, too,” Deb said.

The enthusiasm for the game that is fostered by the fans, parents and teachers of Doniphan-Trumbull is the same ingredient that will sustain the Cardinals into the state semifinals today, Keasling said.

“People throw around the word family when they talk about teams, but Doniphan-Trumbull really does feel like a family,” Keasling said. “I’ve been around athletics my whole life and this is the most tight-knit group I’ve ever seen. We’re all so excited for them.”

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