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ARTHUR — Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond girls basketball coach Mac Condill always keeps in his mind that his players are more than just athletes — they are student-athletes.

Condill, the second-year head coach of the Knights, has found improvement on the court the season. ALAH is 16-8 after finishing 13-13 last year, and now he is looking to a bit of the classroom onto the court as well.

Condill has started a series of discussions led by players with fans at their games called the "Think About It" series that takes place between home JV and varsity basketball games.

“We’ve got all these people and it’s an educational setting; why not take a couple minutes and throw a social situation out there?” Condill said. “It might sink like a lead balloon, but until we test it out I don’t feel like I’m being true to my players. I tell them to push themselves and so I’ve got to do that as well.

“I’m looking for continuous improvement, and not just basketball improvement, but from the human being standpoint and so that’s where this idea stems from.”

So far this season, the Knights have researched three topics — food security, food wastage and the gender-based pay gap. During Saturday’s Senior Night game against Okaw Valley, the Knights presented their gender pay gap topic.

The food issues were inspired by Condill’s work outside of basketball as the general manager of The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur.

“We have talked about food security and the importance of supporting local food drives and can drives. A lot of times there is plenty of food and it is a matter of dispersing it better,” he said.

Food wastage goes hand-in-hand with pumpkins, which will be overlooked based on their appearance rather than if they're being fresh or rotten.

“Pumpkins have fed the world for thousands of years and yet we literally use it as a decoration and chuck it to the curb,” he said. “It’s exciting that the students will become a more educated consumer and that can help move things forward.”

When a topic is selected, players out for an injury will tackle the research during practice.

Sophomore Makenzie Brown researched the gender pay gap issue while out with a shoulder injury.

“I had no idea about the topic before I researched it. It was crazy,” she said. “Males get paid more than females in the same job on a regular basis. The male gender will get about 20 percent more than the female on a paycheck.”

Senior Taylor Nichols, who gave the presentation on Senior Night, illustrates the idea in a basketball analogy.

“If you were in a basketball game and a boy shot a free throw it would be worth one point but if a girl shot the same free throw it would be .8 of a point,” she said.

Along with learning more about an important issue, the girls also get a crash course in public speaking.

“It is one student, a microphone and a cheat sheet in the middle of the court. It is just like when a student goes out there and sings the National Anthem,” Condill said.

Nichols said she overcame some apprehension because of her passion in the topic.

“I was really nervous and I practiced it a few times before so I got a little more confident and I really believed in what it was and it felt really good sharing that with the group,” she said. “When I get embarrassed my face turns red, so there was probably a lot of that, but just knowing that my team was there and supporting me helped a lot.

“We want to have (our home games) to be a little bit more than just watching girls play basketball. We can make it bigger and impact someone’s life.”

Condill and the team were prepared for some pushback from attendees about the atypical event at a high school game, and the coach gets approval from school administration before covering a topic. The discussions on the issues also occur teammate-to-teammate.

“Even with some girls on the team and ourselves as seniors we have sort of formed our own opinions a little bit more and some of us are on different sides of the issue,” Nichols said. “People at school have talked about it and said we did a good job.”

Condill has received feedback from both sides, which meets his goal — to have people consider the issue. 

“I have heard from people who didn’t like it and thought it wasn’t the right place and I’ve heard from some people that enjoyed it,” he said. “It pushes the envelope. Some people didn’t think about it and for some it was enough of a shakeup that it took some people by surprise.”

The pay gap presentation was on Condill's mind as he recently prepared his employees' tax documents.

"I just sent out our W-2s  to our pumpkin patch employees and I was thinking: Am I treating those people the same based on age, sex? I think I am but am I really? I’m learning more about these topics through the presentations, too," he said. 

Condill is hoping for the series to grow next season as the students embrace the idea and crowds get more accustomed to it.

It has been a successful season in wins and losses, but I don’t try to hinge everything on that. We have young student athletes that I want to try to produce the best citizens that we can that can go out into the world," Condill said. "It has done what I hoped it would, which was open their eyes a little bit to it."

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Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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