When sixth-year Bridgeport educator Vanessa Fasanella heard her name called at CEA’s Summer Conference, she burst into tears. The math teacher at Fairchild Wheeler’s Information Technology and Software Engineering High School had entered—and won—a drawing for a free basketball clinic for students at her school. Hosted by the Connecticut Sun professional women’s team, the clinic was the CEA Member Benefits grand prize.
“I ran to the stage, like people do on The Price Is Right,” she recalled. “I knew it would mean a lot to the kids, as so many of them love basketball. I was so excited.”
She and her colleagues decided to keep the excitement going by gathering the school’s four physical education classes—more than 80 students—for a mid-October morning assembly, where the surprise was revealed. UConn legend Morgan Tuck and Connecticut Sun shooting guard Dijonai Carrington stepped up, introduced themselves, and invited students to join them on the court for warmups, drills, layups, and games.
Tuck, a WNBA champion who is now director of franchise development for the Sun, said, “We’re really excited to host this clinic with teachers and kids because it gives them a different opportunity.”
She added, “We get to come in for an hour or so and work with the kids, but the teachers are the ones making the impact. Teachers have a huge impact on you. They’re the ones doing the work and really helping kids grow up to be great adults and great citizens in the future. When you think back to elementary school, coming up through high school, you spend most of your day with your teachers, often more than your parents, so they really set the standard as role models and encourage you to keep going. Teachers are so important. We know they are there doing it every single day.”
Anthony Sanders, who coordinates CEA Member Benefits for the Sun, agreed. “Our clinics are a chance for us to work with kids and continue to build our partnership with CEA. I know teachers have always been big cheerleaders for me. You can have a one of the worst days, and the next day they’re right back to motivate you and keep you going. That’s something that has always stuck with me.”
Sanders is featured in CEA’s Because of a Teacher campaign. Check it out at cea.org/becauseofateacher.
A welcome assist
Bridgeport Education Association President and CEA Member Benefits Chair Ana Batista, who stopped by the clinic to thank the Sun and cheer on the students, said, “I’m delighted to have the Connecticut Sun out here representing what they do every day and tying in their support for our teachers and students.”
Thanks to discounts and special events the Connecticut Sun offers to CEA members and families, teachers are frequently in the stands at their games, she pointed out.
Outside of weekly intramurals, Fairchild Wheeler lacks a traditional high school athletics program, which made the basketball clinic even more of a welcome surprise.
“I know this school doesn’t have sports,” said Carrington, “so I think it’s really cool to be able to bring that aspect here.”
Carrington, whose mother is an educator, added, “I have a huge respect for teachers, the support that they provide for students during their formative years and the role they play in kids’ lives, building confidence and showing them what they’re capable of—so, shoutout to the teachers who put their name in CEA’s drawing for this clinic, and I hope that they have so much fun!”
She also expressed hope that students who recognize her and Tuck understand their own potential.
“Whether that’s in sports or something else, it just shows that if you stick to the grind, anything’s possible. It’s also important for us to show that we’re real people and have the same type of struggles students have, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t reach your ultimate goal.”
Pride and spirit
“Something that’s really great about our school is that we get students from all over, from different areas of Connecticut, learning together and collaborating and having a really good time,” said health and physical education teacher Delmar Reis, adding, “We’re so excited to have the clinic come here to our school because it gives kids an opportunity to come out, have some fun, and see successful people doing something they love.”
Fellow PE teacher Christina Shanahan agreed. “It gives our students an opportunity to see people in the community doing great things.” Through health and physical education, she said, she and her colleagues are able to connect with students outside their academic subjects and get movement in on a daily basis.
Hasam Powell, a student of Shanahan’s, expressed his appreciation for the clinic.
“We’re thankful for our teachers, because they’re the ones who are responsible for this,” he said.
“We were so excited to have everybody here and to give the kids a surprise and a little break from their normal day in the classroom,” said fifth-year health and physical education teacher Megan Polizzo, who joined her students out on the court. “You know, they love basketball, so seeing people who play the sport professionally—especially women—is amazing. We’re grateful to CEA for this and for everything they do for us. They’re always sending us newsletters and giving us the support we need as a community of teachers. All through COVID, CEA was helpful and informative, and we appreciate it.”
One of Polizzo’s students, Destiny—a senior—said that even though she doesn’t play basketball, “It was so much fun and competitive, and I want to thank our teachers.”
“I’m not a basketball person myself,” fellow senior Justin Dones said, “but I liked this clinic, because we got to meet really cool professional basketball players and learn how to play. It was fun to participate, and we want to thank our teachers who put their name in the bucket and won this for us.”
“I’m glad our teachers looked out for us and gave us an opportunity to have the Sun come by,” said Jordan Ellis. “It was a good idea to have all of us get to see them and go through the drills.”
“The teachers in this school make education fun—not just the gym teachers, but all teachers,” said student Kyle Kolber, “and having them enter this raffle and winning this whole thing for us is something really special that we all take to heart.”
The Connecticut Sun is pulling out all the stops to offer other teachers a chance to win free basketball clinics for their students.
One winner will be selected each month through the end of the school year. Clinics run 90 minutes and include skills development, learning to play, time to play, prizes, and a Q&A session with Connecticut Sun staff and/or players, depending on availability. Your students could share the court with WNBA royalty!
Enter today for your chance to win, and tell us why you want to bring a Connecticut Sun basketball clinic to your school.