MEDFORD — Dazzling a crowd of a few hundred Hoover Elementary students Tuesday, Harlem Globetrotter Julian “Zeus” McClurkin had only to stand at the center of the gym in his trademark red, white and blue jumpsuit and spin a basketball on his finger to have students’ complete and undivided attention.
Throw in a few slam dunks, some silly jokes and some mesmerizing ball tricks, and McClurkin had students begging to high-five the 6-foot-8 basketball giant on their way back to class.
McClurkin was on hand bright and early Tuesday morning to deliver an important message of kindness. Part of an anti-bullying program dubbed the “ABCs of Bullying Prevention,” the program is a partnership between the world-famous Globetrotters and the National Campaign to Stop Violence, geared at discouraging bullying and increasing empathy.
The ABCs stand for action, bravery and compassion.
Targeting kids age 6 to 12, the program focuses on personal experiences and offers tools students can use to prevent and reduce bullying.
Globetrotters equate being part of a team to how kids can offer support to one another to help stop bullying — for both bullied and bullies.
McClurkin, a minister, said kids are often stunned to hear that even professional athletes have overcome challenges. Suffering from exercise-induced asthma and having never “made the team” from seventh to 10th grade — he finally made the school basketball team in 11th grade — the Columbus, Ohio, native is now a forward for the world-famous Globetrotters.
McClurkin told stories and urged students to never judge people based on color or gender and to always be kind. During the Tuesday assembly, McClurkin, who has played ball in 23 countries and provinces, led a small group of Hoover students in a “magic circle” warm-up game and gave each the chance to pass the ball.
Eleven-year-old Avery Friesen, a fifth-grader, participated in the circle and surprised McClurkin with a flawless pass — behind his back, through his legs and bounced off his head. Avery said he was surprised at his own pass and excited to have met McClurkin.
“He basically gave us the ball and told us each how to pass it. Everyone laughed when mine bounced off my head. I didn’t think it would happen so perfectly, but it did,” said the boy.
Avery said being kind and standing up against bullying was an important thing to learn in school.
“Zeus told us that it’s the number one thing that kids worry about, and it’s a problem in most schools. He talked to us about action, bravery and compassion,” he said.
“It’s important to stand up to bullies, because if there are bullies in our school, we have to know what to do when it happens. If you’re a bully, you won’t have any friends and you’ll be the kid who gets called the bully, and no one really likes that.”
Avery and other students were hard-pressed to believe McClurkin could have been bullied as a kid.
“He did these cool tricks behind his head and rolling the ball on his arms. It’s so crazy, he’s 6-foot-8, and his hand was the size of my head. He was pretty intimidating but just really funny!”
McClurkin told students of his own struggles — from being bullied to struggling to make the basketball team as a student. Now enshrined in the Guinness World Records book — with records for both the most slam dunks in one minute (16) and the most bounced three-pointers in one minute (5) — McClurkin assured them it was true.
“Yes, I’ve been bullied as a kid and as an adult,” he said.
McClurkin said he remembers being a student, years ago, and looking up to professional athletes.
“The kids look at me, and I seem like a larger-than-life figure to them, so they think, and I hope they think, ‘If this guy is able to overcome bullying, then surely I’ll be able to as well,” he said.
“I share with the kids that I was bullied in my middle-school music class. Every time I would start playing the drums, there was this girl who would start throwing drum sticks at me, trying to get a reaction. I was a happy-go-lucky kid, so I would skip right over and tell the teacher.”
He added, “I found out later she liked me and didn’t know how to tell me we try to talk to the kids about trying to be friends with everyone, including the kids being bullied and the ones doing the bullying, to just try to understand each other and always be kind.”
Hoover Principal Lynn Cataldo said McClurkin’s message of kindness melded well with the school’s emphasis on personal responsibility and kindness.
“Each month at Hoover, we recognize students for specific acts of kindness. We try to focus on the positive. One of the things I worry about is the use of the word bully,” Cataldo said.
“Sometimes it’s just conflict. Instead of focusing on the negative, we try to make a big deal about the positive and about doing the right thing. We want to have kids feel empowered to make a positive change, a positive difference.”
The Harlem Globetrotters have two upcoming games slated for Southern Oregon; Nov. 4 in Klamath Falls (Danny Miles Court at Oregon Tech) and Nov. 5 at North Medford High School. Details and tickets are online at www.harlemglobetrotters.com.
Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.