Bailey Halloran was burning it on the basketball court. During an event Saturday at Indiana State University called Court of Dreams, the little high schooler made a slew of shots alongside members of the ISU men’s basketball team and other participants in the Beautiful Lives project, which provides memorable experiences for people with disabilities.
Today the participants were working out and playing basketball alongside the Sycamores. When asked to do a layup – which she had done before – she instead doubled up and did a 10-foot jump and, later, a shot from the free throw line. Sycamore players were so impressed that when they lined up for a mock top five intro, they chanted “MVP!” MVP!” as she ran through the players.
The Beautiful Lives project is the brainchild of co-founder Bryce Weiler, who is blind but was asked to sit on the bench alongside the University of Evansville Purple Aces from 2010 to 2014. He commented on some games and shooting free throws afterwards, and helped create the Beautiful Lives project after that experience.
Although blind, Weiler has an impressive awareness of his surroundings. Sitting at the edge of the field, he said: “I can tell that they are shooting. I can tell when they are missing. And I can say that this basket [the one closest to him] is a bit loose compared to that one [on the other end of the court]. I would hate to shoot this one.
In addition to basketball, the Beautiful Lives Project has partnered with Michigan State to introduce participants to football, with the Evansville Otters and Minnesota Twins to play baseball, and various cheerleading teams to perform at half-time. It also invites participants to explore a wide variety of artistic techniques. “We do a whole plethora of events,” Weiler said.
Brett Putz, special assistant to ISU men’s basketball head coach Josh Shertz, led Saturday’s event, where his players clapped attendees every time a child put the ball in the hoop.
“One of the biggest things Coach Shertz expects from our program – we’re talking about a method that’s built for life with what we do for our players,” Putz said. “And it’s interacting and engaging with people from all walks of life and all cultures, so it’s been a great experience for our guys to work with kids from different backgrounds and bring some happiness into their life.
“We have a good group of young men who understand that it’s not just about basketball,” he added. “They understand the impact they can have on the community. Our guys are probably having more fun with it than the kids involved.
Cameron Crawford, a second-year shooter from Sycamore, confirmed, “I can speak for all the guys on this list that it’s fun for us to share with them and see the joy on their faces.”
Halloran, the whirling dervish on the court, served as a team leader for his college and high school basketball teams.
“I practiced the long shots,” she said. “I always practiced so I could be a basketball player one day.”
Speaking with the Sycamores, she said, “it’s amazing because with all the players cheering me on with the long shots, it’s awesome.”
Sycamore junior guard Jayson Kent provided a number of his rebounds for Halloran. “Bailey, she’s fun, man,” he said. “It’s a ball of energy. It is soft. She always puts a smile on everyone’s face. I’m just happy to meet her this year.
CJ Whitehead also made a strong impression on the hardwood. He made a myriad of shots and played tenacious D, coming in with multiple rebounds and a few steals. He also pulled off the winning shot.
“It’s fun,” he said, adding that the ISU athletes “were nice and it was good to play. I played basketball in middle school and am preparing to play in high school. Whitehead also enjoys football and baseball.
Megan Whitehead, his mother-in-law, said: ‘He has always loved basketball and it was fun to watch him play a sport with people he can look up to on the men’s basketball team. ‘ISU, which was absolutely brilliant today. We thank them for organizing this event for us.
Crawford and Kent, the ISU players, appreciated the chance to work and play alongside the participants of the Beautiful Lives project.
“It means a lot to share my love of the game and my knowledge of the game with others,” Crawford said. “Seeing the joy on their faces was awesome. Everyone seemed happy to be here from the second they got here. It’s great to share the happiness this game brings.
“I guess it’s a blessing to be able to give back to the community and help these kids,” Kent said. “It was fun playing with them – I got to know them; they are fun kids to play with.
It was a welcome respite from the intense focus the players bring to practices.
“In practice we’re definitely in a different zone,” Crawford said, “but outside of practice we can definitely have fun with basketball and relax and not be so strict with everything. It was a perfect opportunity for that.
Surprisingly, despite the joy he sows through his programs, Weiler doesn’t get much feedback.
“My participants don’t talk to me,” he says. “Parents talk to me sometimes. But everyone who participates really enjoys it. I haven’t had a complaint for four years.
David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or [email protected]