MURRAY — When you're 6 feet 3 inches tall, a Division I basketball player and shooting hoops on an elementary school playground, odds are most of the shots you put up will go in.
But Megan Huff, who plays forward for the University of Utah and last season was named to the Pac-12 Women's Basketball All-Conference Team, was less concerned about hers going in as those attempted by students at Parkside Elementary School during lunch recess Thursday.
Watching the students send up shot after shot, Huff offered enthusiastic encouragement.
"Go, go, go. You've got it. Keep going!" she said.
And when a student's shot went in, she'd celebrate it with a high-five, hollering, "Good shot!"
Huff and her teammates partnered with the nonprofit organization Playworks Utah Thursday for a play date at the Murray elementary school.
Playworks Utah, which serves more than 80 schools in the Beehive State, uses structured play that helps children feel included, be active and build social and emotional skills.
Eighty-seven percent of staff at schools that partner with Playworks Utah report a decrease in bullying incidents in their schools, according to the nonprofit organization's annual survey.
The U. players wore T-shirts that further reinforced an anti-bullying message: "Real players don't bully."
Huff, a fifth-year senior from Washington state, said she enjoyed spending time with the students because she understands the importance of role modeling.
"It's a lot of fun because we have such a big impact on the community, just trying to teach kids bullying is not cool and anyone can fit in. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are at things, you can still be an influence and a good person," she said.
Huff said she experienced bullying as a child, which is also a motivating factor.
"When I was younger, people used to bully me because I wore the same sweatshirt everyday because that's the only sweatshirt I had. I really didn't have a group at recess or anything. I'd just go and do whatever," she said.
Erika Bean, who plays point guard for the U., said the visit gave players a chance to play games with Parkside students and to "foster inclusion and make sure each kid has … a fair chance to play at recess and also promote movement."
Bean said she learned recently that 75 percent of elementary school students at recess report bullying.
Growing up as a female athlete and "always wanting to play with the boys, you always kind of get looked down upon by your peers. For me, it's just being able to step outside my comfort zone and being able to stand up to the bullies and do what I want to do, which is be active, play sports and do all I can at recess," Bean said.
Andrew Robertson, site coordinator with Playworks Utah, said the nonprofit organization invited the U. women's team to Parkside to encourage students to be active and to give them the opportunity to interact with collegiate-level athletes.Comment on this story
"If they can can play together respectfully, our kids should be able to, too," he said.
Playworks Utah was founded on the belief that "the power of play brings out the best in everyone. We think by teaching values through games and teaching pro-social skills and conflict resolution, it will filter holistically through their lives," Robertson said.
For example, if students playing four square dispute a ball touching a line, they play roshambo to resolve the disagreement.
"At Playworks, we believe roshambo has the power to save the world," he said.