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Students, kids share Ripken day page 2
University of Mary Washington athletes help mentor children from Boys and Girls Clubs

 UMW president Rick Hurley shakes hands with UMW student and men's basketball player E. J. Willis during the Ripken Foundation's College Day Experience Saturday.
JOEY LOMONACO for THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 10/1/2012

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As the child of a single mother growing up in Washington, D.C., he saw sports as a way of relating to others once he made the decision to go to college.

When he joined the basketball team, he said, that choice changed his life.

"When I first came into Mary Washington, I wasn't really open to people," Willis said of his basketball teammates. "Two years later, I see these guys as my brothers. I developed relationships with them like I would do with my own family."

Willis used his love of sports to bond with the kids.

He asked them what sport they played to introduce himself and was convinced meeting a college basketball player such as himself would sway their decision to pursue higher education.

"People can relate to sports," Willis said. "Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons."

When all the joking and fun that comes with quickball gave way to the serious pitch about college life, Willis took time to relate his life experience to influence the younger participants to avoid the hard road he had taken.

In a speech, he talked about sports being the tool to a good education and not an end in itself.

"I wish I had somebody like me to tell me the same things that I told them," he said of his experience.

Life decisions can be difficult for young people in college.

But when called upon to mentor kids, the answers were clear enough for everyone involved.

Sean McCollum is a freelance writer who lives in Fredericksburg.


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