Giving back to his community has always been a priority for safety graduate Trenton Hatfield. Now he has the opportunity.
Trenton was instrumental in helping his father, Bob Hatfield, run the Grissom Leadership Basketball League in the Muncie Community School system. The league not only teaches kids how to play basketball, but also life skills and other lessons.
“The focus of the league isn’t on winning and losing, it’s a developmental league,” said Bob. “We emphasize sportsmanship, we emphasize basketball fundamentals, having fun, but the real main goal is to give kids the social-emotional skills to learn to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
However, the Grissom Leadership League traces its roots back to 1995 and evolved from another league he started from Morrison-Mock Elementary, Bob said. He came up with the idea after noticing unhealthy tendencies in other programs.
“I’ve had kids that competed in other leagues and I’ve just seen such a toxic environment with the competitive atmosphere, even with the kindergarten kids,” Bob said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very competitive person, but I think there’s a time and a developmental age where that competitive nature comes into play and that kids are confronted with.”
He then drew up the plans for the league and built it based on character development in the local youth.
Around the time Trenton got into middle school, Bob had to stop playing the league due to his travels through AAU basketball. Last year he brought it back with the same intentions as in previous years. One of the main reasons for restarting the program was the community.
“When we decided to abolish the league, a lot of people were upset,” Bob said. “The league had built a pretty good reputation in the community … A lot of our families reached out to me and said, ‘When are you going to do the league again?’
Trenton helped start the league and influenced Bob.
“I couldn’t have made it this time without the support and help of my son Trenton,” said Bob. “He was very instrumental in not only encouraging and motivating me to start the league again, but I mean he did a lot of the dirty work and helping out behind the scenes.”
For Trenton, he said it was a pleasure. Growing up Trenton was part of the league, he started playing at the age of three. In fact, over the years his team evolved into the Muncie Central varsity basketball team. They were part of the 2014 Muncie Central section championship team.
“It was really just an opportunity to be a part of something [brought me] a lot of joy when I was a kid, helping the community, a community I’m very passionate about,” Trenton said. “I’m a kid from that community, born and raised in Muncie, so any opportunity I get that I can really give back is awesome.”
Trenton is a referee and coach for the league. He developed a bond with the children on his team. A player sometimes struggled to concentrate on playing and got frustrated easily. There was one weekend that Trenton couldn’t make it into coaching, so Bob had to step in and take on the role. It was the pain of Trenton’s absence on the child’s face that let him know he was making a difference.
“Seeing that he was sad about it definitely impressed me and helped me see that even though it was hard and frustrating at times, it really made a difference and had a lasting impact on these kids,” Trenton said.
Despite growing up here in Muncie, Trenton has spent the last three seasons playing for Illinois State. As soon as he entered the portal, he knew where he would land.
“When the opportunity came up for me to play for my hometown, I didn’t realize how much Muncie meant to me and what a great opportunity it really was,” said Trenton. “Just coming back and spending these last two years completing my career at home in the place I’ve always had a deep passion for is honestly nothing short of a dream come true for me.”
Bob said Trenton’s return to help him was a sight to behold.
“It was really fun to see life come full circle… it was really cool and very rewarding,” said Bob. “As a father, as a parent, you love to see your kids not only succeed, but also make an impact and make a difference to others.”
On a certain day, Bob experienced something special. A young boy with special needs was struggling and Trenton helped him. As soon as he was near the basket, he picked him up to let him dunk the ball.
“I love that and the smile on this kid’s face…I know all the students that compete in the league and I can tell you I’ve never seen that kid happier than I did that day,” Bob said. “That was damn special.”
Ball State defensive backs coach Josh Zidenberg described Trenton as “mature and wise beyond his years.”
“He’s definitely taken on a leadership role, which isn’t always easy, especially as a college grad…he’s made great strides this season,” said Zidenberg. “He’s become a guy that guys go to with questions, and [he] put yourself in a position to be that kind of guy so other players feel like they can go to him and trust him.
Looking ahead, Bob hopes to expand.
“We had some plans to expand the league to other elementary schools within the Muncie Community System. However, this will be a gradual process,” Trenton said. “We’re going to do that next year and move it to two other elementary schools, possibly three.”
The league starts in February 2023 and expects around 300 players.
Contact Derran Cobb with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Derran_cobb