A group run by a Wauwatosa resident led a three-day basketball camp for kids of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa.
Earlier this month, a group of Wauwatosa volunteers loaded up a trailer with basketballs and T-shirts, piled into a van and traveled five hours north to a reservation on the southern shore of Lake Superior.
Led by local resident Andy Mann, the assemblage was made up of restaurant servers, a social studies teacher, colleagues and friends. It was the second year the group had set aside time from their summer to run a free, three-day basketball camp for kids of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa.
It had been a hard summer for the community, which was hammered by a string of severe thunderstorms and flooding in mid-July. Tribal elders referred to the damage as disastrous, as homes were ruined, people were isolated from basic necessities such as food due to road closures, and the community's wild rice crop grown along the Bad River was nearly depleted. Those in need of dialysis treatment had to be airlifted from the Bad River Lodge & Casino, and access to the nearby city of Ashland, where many necessities were, was only made possible by a 3-1/2 hour detour. According to various media reports, the powerful storm claimed the lives of at least two people.
"It was devastating," said Joann Anderson, a tribal elder. "Everybody helped each other a lot."
In response to the flooding Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in eight Wisconsin counties.
As the community continued to pick up the pieces weeks and establish some sort of normalcy after the flooding, it was uncertain whether the basketball camp would happen, or if anyone would even attend, said Mann, 34.
Mann's ties to the reservation community date are lifelong. He was adopted when he was 2 months old by parents who now live in Wauwatosa. The adoption agreement between Mann's parents and his biological grandfather required that Mann be raised honoring his heritage. Growing up, Mann routinely returned to the reservation to participate in the community's annual powwow - what Mann referred to as a "homecoming" -- and to spend time with family and friends .
Mann acknowledged the basketball camp could be a bright spot for a community that needed it in the wake of disaster. On Sunday, Aug. 14, he ventured north with friends to prepare for the camp that would run three days. Among the group was TIm Arndorfer, head basketball coach at Wauwatosa East High School. Arndorfer and Mann had met through previous coaching partnerships.
During the day, the team led two camp sessions: the morning was reserved for younger children and focused on basic skills and techniques, and the afternoon session was reserved for older kids and included more advanced drills.
Inspiration for the camp
Organizing the camp had been a long time coming for Mann and his friend Mikey Whitebird, who lives on the reservation.
When asked, Whitebird couldn't exactly recall how far back his friendship with Mann goes. Mann joked it's possible he communicates with Whitebird more than he does his wife, Lisa. For years the duo talked about starting up a basketball camp for kids in the community, realizing the positive impact it could have.
"I've always wanted to do it, but never had enough materials or resources to do it," said Whitebird of starting up the co-ed camp.
Whitebird said, behind wrestling, basketball is a favored sport on the reservation. There aren't that many places to play the game and popularity for the sport had dwindled from when he was a kid, Whitebird said.
The reservation's community center is one option, said Mann, but there are only two basketball hoops and the space is used widely for a plethora of events, like a summer feeding program for kids.
"They stored bottled water and things like that in the community center during the flooding," Mann said.
One day in 2015, Mann and Whitebird decided to "just do it" and organize the camp. Mann collected donations in the Milwaukee area, assembled a team of volunteers and eventually ran the inaugural camp last summer. The camp drew up about 50 middle and high school-aged students and was expected to draw about the same this year.
Honoring his history
Mann has always felt drawn to help others, said his mother, Sandra, who has two other children, also adopted. In addition to running the basketball camp, her son collected donations like bleach, supplies for babies, food, buckets and mops when the flooding hit earlier this year.
"He’s always cared for people in need," she said. "He would try to figure out some way to help them out. He’s always done that. In fact, when he was in kindergarten, there was a young boy from Laos. Teachers would put Andy and this young boy in classes together. (Andy) would always look out for this guy."
Mann said the mindset to help others carried over to the basketball camp, too.
"He saw that he could help the children up there have a better summer, something to do," she said. "There’s so many things kids can do down here, but that’s not so up on the reservation. He thought, 'I could help out.'"
Traveling throughout the reservation, the ever-energetic Mann greeted — or was greeted by — many members of the community. He spoke easily with those he encountered and was quick to embrace people in hugs or throw his arm over their shoulder.
"He's a pretty outgoing guy that just blends with any group," his mom said.
About the camp
The basketball camp is also made possible by a partnership through the reservation's Healthy Lifestyles initiative, said Mary Nelis, who runs the Healthy Lifestyles and whose own children participated in the camp. Healthy Lifestyles helped spread the word about the camp by posting flyers around town and online advertisement.
"Basketball had kind of died," said Nelis, as she sat at a table in the community center Aug. 15, surrounded by children enjoying breakfast from the reservation's free meal program. Last year, kids loved the camp, so it was a no-brainer to bring it back a second time, she said. The basketball camp aligns with Healthy Lifestyles' mission of decreasing the risk of diabetes on the reservation; the disease is prevalent among community members, she said, and many children are at risk for developing it.
Camp members met at the center and were then transported by van about 20 minutes away to Ashland Middle School. The school's shiny gymnasium had six basketball nets and lots of space to run drills and play.
The Milwaukee Bucks have been involved, too. The Bucks chartered a bus to transport the kids from northern Wisconsin to a game. To top it off, the young players received plenty of Bucks paraphernalia, too.
Abby Davidson, 13, belongs to the Bad River Tribe, but lives in Ashland with her family. She attended the camp alongside her older brother, Joey, 15.
Abby said she decided to try out the camp because her brother had a positive experience the year before and because the camp would help prepare her for Ashland's school basketball team.
"Basketball is my favorite sport," she said.
Joey said he decided to attend the camp again because he "thought it was fun last year" and learned more about basketball fundamentals.
Mann routinely returns to the reservation, about once every three months, to visit family and friends. It's his dream to continue to run the camp for years to come.