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Hometown heroes

The noise was deafening as the 13 blue-and-white-clad college athletes strolled into Arlington's Thornton Elementary School cafeteria one Friday afternoon last November. Four hundred youngsters were gathered, and the men must have looked like giants.

Anthony Vereen visiting Thornton Elementary
Sophomore forward Anthony Vereen exchanges high-fives with students in the Thornton Elementary School cafeteria. The basketball team visited the east Arlington campus in November.

Chants of "UTA all the way, go Mavs" greeted the basketball players as they took their seats on the stage. Assistant coach Reggie Brown stepped to the microphone, and the room grew silent. Brown commands the kids' respect.

After all, he's a Thornton product himself.

First came introductions, followed by brief remarks from head coach Scott Cross.

"How many of you have been told you can't do something?" Cross asked. Most raised their hands. "Don't listen to them. You can do anything you put your mind to."

Brown returned to the mic.

"I'm going to tell you how to get even with your teachers," he said with a smile. "Ask them for more homework. Why? Because teachers have to grade homework on weekends while you're out playing."

Once the kids stopped laughing, Brown got serious.

"Respect your teachers," he said. "Listen to what they tell you."

He took questions: Who's the best player? Who's the oldest? Have any players made an F? Does it get boring when you travel? He asked a few questions himself and handed out prizes for correct answers.

The visit was a reward for students who had made good choices during the six-week grading period, said Valarie Yurkunas, Thornton's behavior interventionist, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees from UT Arlington.

"Out of all the merit days, the kids voted this one as their favorite," she said. "Because he's one of them, Reggie makes that connection. To these kids, these guys are gods."

— Mark Permenter

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