Brooke Kyle plays forward and center on the Ramsay girls basketball team. Thursday, the junior was making the call, not for a play on the basketball court but calling the numbers in a bingo game for senior residents at neighboring South Health and Rehabilitation.
“When we come and visit them, it’s like we’re their family,” senior Ajah Wayne said. “They call us their family, sort of like their granddaughters.”
When most teams that advance to the semifinals of the state high school basketball tournament talk about senior support, they are talking about 12th-graders at their school.
At Ramsay, coach Ronnie Jackson and his squad are also talking about the senior citizens who live at South, but have taken a place in the players’ hearts.
The Ramsay girls knocked off Opelika Wednesday to earn a berth in the Class 6A championship game. They’ll face Hazel Green at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the title.
And rooting them on will be the residents of South Health and Rehabilitation.
Jackson said the Rams usually “adopt” three to four families for Christmas every year to brighten their holidays. He recalled his college days at Alabama State University when he would go to nursing homes and meet residents.
“I always missed that,” he recalled. “This year, I was telling the girls we have a nursing home that’s right next door. What do you say we adopt a nursing home this year? They were like, ‘Yes. That sounds good.’”
The Rams have generally visited once a week or at least once every two weeks. “That’s how we built that relationship,” the coach said. “Basically, when we get there, we’re over activities. We’re playing bingo with them and we’re playing cards and all sorts of games.”
Wayne said the visits started as community service but have grown into something more.
“Being here, it’s kind of helped the team bond a lot as we talk to these older people and kind of get the feel for what they go through,” the lone 12th-grader on the team said. “There are a lot of people here I see and I talk to. As I come here, more people open up.”
Dakiyah Sanders, a sophomore point guard, realized they could make an impact on the lives of the seniors they visit.
“I enjoy playing bingo with them,” she said. “It really gives us a chance to bond with them. To see them have a smile on their face puts a smile on mine.”
Bingo, checkers and card games have highlighted the visits of the Rams. But the visits are more than just to play games.
“I think they enjoy themselves and the residents did, too, so basically they started coming more and more,” South administrator Sam Cook said. “Just talking, interacting with some of the younger folks is always helpful for some of these guys. It reminds them of their childhood, or maybe some of the grandchildren they have that they might not see all the time.
“With their winning streak going on, a couple of (Ramsay players) say they think they’ve got some good luck charms over here at South,” Cook continued.
The love has gone both ways as some of South’s residents have taken in a couple of Ramsay’s home games.
“We had a cheering section and it was unbelievable,” Jackson said. “We came out and we all gave them a little dab before the game started. It was a good 25 of them.”
Said Wayne: “Before we started the game, we hugged all of them and made them feel welcome. Since they don’t really get out a lot, it was kind of an adventure for them.”
And they appreciated the love.
“They announced that these guys were showing up and they had front row seats when they rolled them in,” Cook recalled. “When they came back, everybody said they were treated like royalty, that the game was played for them is almost how the residents felt.”
As the Rams look to add another girls basketball championship to the four already in their trophy case, they will have their neighbors at South rooting them on, perhaps even at Legacy Arena.
“We have some folks who might be trying to go down there,” Cook said. “We’re setting up transportation. A few of them said we just want to watch it on TV but there’s a couple of them that used to play basketball that want to get down there. We’re trying everything we can to get them transportation down there.”
Said Wayne: “They’re talking about them going to the championship game. They would be excited and we would be excited to see them.”