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Clutch Court Matchups And Community Service Will Define North Texas Final Four

When the NCAA Final Four comes to North Texas in April, it is going to be a lot more than basketball and bragging rights.

In the months leading up to tip-off, thousands of DFW kids will take on service work ranging from reading to seniors to gardening projects.

Students at the Charles Rice Learning Center in south Dallas are tilling potting soil to get it ready for new planting; radishes first, then eventually potatoes.

As they dump their spades and scamper off to the next activity, it’s obvious something special is happening in school. Students tend to the garden, paint crates to make bookshelves and sift through tumbled glass to decorate stepping stones.

Kids at Rice are getting a jump start on what the NCAA calls its legacy project. The Final Four tips off in Arlington this April, and a large scale service project will surround it. When the Super Bowl came to town a few years ago, North Texas non-profit Big Thought created SLANT, which stands for Service Learning Adventures in North Texas. It’s getting a re-boot for the Final Four.

“If you think about community as not just the attendees at a sporting event, not just the businesses that benefit from that sports event, but the kids, their parents, their schools, their institutions,” says Big Thought Board Chair Irene Hosford. “That’s the power of the NCAA with leaving the community a better place.”

Hosford says the Final Four initiative is open to students in grades three through eight who live in Dallas, Arlington or Fort Worth. As far as individual projects go? The sky’s the limit.

The kids at Rice came up with a stepping stones project themselves, recycling broken glass from their neighborhood to create a craft. Any idea is fair game, as long as it fits into one of four categories: environmental impact, health and wellness, hunger and homelessness or education and literacy.

This is the first year the Final Four is making this project official. And the NCAA’s Victor Hill says they’re just getting started.

“So it’s our grassroots way of starting to teach folks about what’s important through social responsibility and how they can give things back as far as community service,” Hill says. “We’re starting with the Final Four but our plan over the years is to roll it out to various championships as we expand our programs.”

So while they may not get anywhere close to the courts at Arlington in April, the kids at Rice will be players all the same.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.