IU School of Social Work is headquartered on the IUPUI campus with locations on 8 IU Campuses. The school also has the Department of Labor Studies
Talk to Nick Reich about his basketball team at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and their inspiring run to capture the Class A state championship and you can’t help but think he sounds like a social worker.
Well, that’s because he is. Reich is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Social Work and received his Bachelor of Social Work degree at IUPUI in 2008.
In fact basketball was the last thing Reich was thinking about when he enrolled in the Social Work program in 2005. He had previously attended a small Illinois college where he played basketball for a couple of years, but left there in 1998. During the ensuing years Reich said things happened that led him down the wrong path. “Then I made a decision that I wanted to get into a field where I could give back and try to help young people avoid some of the same mistakes I made. That’s what got me to social work.”
During his junior year at IUPUI, Reich was interested in school social work and became interested in an opportunity to work with a college counselor at Metropolitan, an inner-city high school on the near-Westside of Indianapolis. He actually wanted a more direct role with students trying to overcome problems they faced in high school, but decided to take a chance and see what happened. “It ended up being a good option,” Reich said. Metropolitan, which opened in 2004, is a charter school that caters to students who have been unsuccessful in traditional schools. It is operated by Goodwill Industries.
By the time his practicum came to an end, Metropolitan thought Reich was a good option as well. They offered him a full-time job to stay on at the high school as the coordinator of student and family services to help the school’s students eliminate barriers they face getting to school and getting an education. It was exactly the type of job Reich wanted.
“Everyone knows that if a kid is hungry, they will not be able to focus in class,” Reich said. He helps families that have had their electricity turned off, deals with crisis management and helps teens deal with pregnancy and becoming parents. To combat the hunger problem, Reich helped the school develop the first school-based food pantry in Indiana through a partnership with Gleaners Food Bank and a grant from Feed America. Students can pick up food at the pantry. Parents can also come in for food supplies, but to access the food pantry they must check in with school staff to get a report on how their child is doing in school. In essence, the food pantry combats hunger, but also serves as a vehicle to get parents more involved in their child’s education. The school also offers a health clinic several times a week so students can get needed health care.
During his practicum in 2007, Metropolitan decided to start a basketball program and Reich assisted a school employee put together a team. After he became a full-time employee, the high school looked at his previous basketball experience – he played basketball in high school and coached AAU basketball in the summers – and asked him to be the varsity basketball coach.
The school has no gym, so the team plays and practices at various Indianapolis Park Department facilities. The school’s athletic budget is so small that while the team has game uniforms, they have no practice jerseys. Instead they play as “shirts and skins,” Reich said.
Few if any of his players had been involved with organized basketball teams, but had a lot of raw talent. Reich developed a message straight out of his social work studies for his team: effort and working together can make this team a winner. The first step in doing something often comes with students realizing they can do it, he added. “From a basketball standpoint, that is the biggest lesson the kids have learned through this run for a state championship.” It doesn’t mean that won’t have to deal with adversity, Reich said, but rather how to push through adversity and not give up.
Reich’s first year as varsity coach was brutal. Few schools were willing to play against Metropolitan because no one knew who they were. That forced Metropolitan to find opponents at larger high schools like Broad Ripple, Arlington and Bishop Chatard. Reich said the first two games that year weren’t pretty. Metropolitan lost the two games by a combined 110 points. “We took our lumps early on.” When asked if he used his social worker skills to keep his team’s spirits up, Reich laughed and said, “I needed someone to keep me encouraged.”
As a coach, Reich found himself focusing on a strength perspective and asset building approach that he learned in his social work classes. “It certainly carries over to basketball.” Getting them to understand how to play basketball as a unit and as a team was his biggest challenge. “We always worked from the perspective of building kids up and getting them to understand that the lessons they learn in basketball can be carried over into life and help them be successful off the court.”
At the beginning of this season, team would have likely answered no if asked if they were going to win a championship, Reich said. Instead they set their goal of winning a sectional title, something many schools aim for. They entered the state tournament unranked and began winning. Perhaps the most electrifying moment came when a last second shot made 60 feet from the basket gave the Metropolitan Pumas the victory in their regional championship game. They went on to become state champions after defeating Triton 59-55 at Conseco Field House.
To ensure his players, who normally ride IndyGo buses to school were available for early Saturday morning games during the state tournament, Reich had team members stay at his home the Friday night before two of the games. That way he didn’t have to worry about somebody missing a bus and not being available to play and more importantly he was able to ensure the players ate a good, healthy breakfast before the game. But the Friday night sleepovers weren’t really unusual for the Metropolitan team. “These kids are in and out of my house on a pretty regular basis,” Reich explained. “It’s a lot more than a high school basketball coach and players. They are part of my family and we are part of their families.”
The best part of winning the Class A championship is getting recognition for the school and the players, Reich said. His telephone has been ringing non-stop with calls from college basketball coaches interested in his players. Reich is now in the process of organizing a tour to take his players to colleges in Indiana and Illinois.
But in Reich’s mind, the championship run didn’t end with a trophy. “The thing I will be most proud of is if I can get these kids into college.” After all Reich said, he never envisioned himself as a life-long basketball coach. “I got in it to help kids. If I have done that through basketball, then that’s just great.”
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