Group fostering bond between UW-W baseball players, local students
WHITEWATER—On the playground during recess at Lincoln Inquiry Charter School, Mikole Pierce teased Ethan Watts about a girl Ethan fancies.
“Where's your girl?” Pierce asked Ethan.
Ethan is a fourth-grader and Pierce is a a senior at UW-Whitewater. They're lunch buddies through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties.
“Oh my God,” Ethan responded as his cheeks turned red and he playfully punched Pierce.
Pierce picked up Ethan, turned him upside down and carried him a few feet while swinging him around. The two laughed.
Ethan and Pierce were paired in January 2014 and have met weekly ever since.
Ethan can be a boy of few words.
During the first few visits, Ethan wouldn't talk to Pierce, a member of the UW-Whitewater baseball team.
Pierce coaxed information from Ethan over games of chess. For each piece Pierce took, Ethan shared something about himself.
After a few weeks, Ethan opened up about his life at home, about school and even about a girl.
“He's really shy when it comes to girls,” Pierce said before asking Ethan about the girl again in a quieter voice.
Ethan and Pierce have secrets.
The two talk about things they might not discuss with other people.
Ethan confides in Pierce about things at home that bother him. Pierce has talked to Ethan about life after graduation.
During lunch Wednesday, Pierce and Ethan sat across from each other at a table in the gym and shared jokes inaudible to someone a few feet away but clearly entertaining to the duo.
Pierce is one of a growing number of UW-Whitewater baseball players who volunteer with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Pierce was the first volunteer from the team. When the organization was in need of more volunteers, Pierce asked his teammates if anyone was interested.
Since then, two others have joined and more are considering it, Pierce said.
April is National Volunteer Month.
Andrea Levine, community-based program coordinator of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program, said volunteers like Pierce and the others are invaluable to children's education and confidence.
“They make all of the change for the children,” Levine said. “We just facilitate that … The kids are really excited to get a Big Brother or Big Sister, and the volunteers really want to help a child. They go in to it with the dedication to see it through, and amazing things happen.”
Children with Bigs are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to drink alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip school, according to the organization's website.
When Pierce started working with Ethan, Ethan was having trouble at school.
He had in-school suspensions, wasn't doing his work and had trouble focusing.
As time has passed, Ethan's behavior and work has improved. This year he has had zero in-school suspensions.
Pierce smiles when he talks about Ethan's marked improvement, and the senior doesn't take credit for it.
“He doesn't really have a lot of role models, and it's good to be one of those role models to him and help him out any way I can,” Pierce said. “I think he can trust me with just about anything. He's pretty open with me about what he's going through.”
Ethan was hesitant to share why he liked having Pierce around because the reporter asking questions was a female, and, as Pierce explained, Ethan is shy around girls.
Eventually Ethan, with flushed cheeks, explained he never thought about why he likes having Pierce around. He just does.
“He's awesome,” Ethan said before looking up and over at Pierce in the hallway.
A few moments later, Ethan fist-bumped Pierce goodbye and went back to class.
Pierce is not looking forward to saying goodbye to Ethan. He's seeking the perfect replacement from his team.
“I want to put him in good hands,” Pierce said. “I don't want to leave him hanging.”
Helping a local student is one reason Pierce volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The organization was also the best fit for his schedule and a way to give back to the community.
“A lot revolves around the college, but a lot gets forgotten about the actual community of Whitewater, not the university,” Pierce said. “I transferred twice before I came here, so being able to give back to Whitewater the way Whitewater has given to me is great.”
Teammate Will Helbing chose the organization for the same reasons.
As a kid, Helbing always wanted a younger sibling that could look up to him like he did his sister.
At first, Helbing, a sophomore, and his Little were shy around each other. Now, the two hug and high-five when they see one another.
“He tells me how excited he is for me to come in on that day,” Helbing said. “I can tell it makes his day better, and it even makes my day better to come by just for an hour and hang out with someone who idolizes me. (I can) take a step back from schoolwork and baseball.
"It's a really good relationship because we both benefit from it.”