By Dan Simmons
Pat Baldwin, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s first-year men’s head basketball coach, knows how much fans mean to the Panthers. But he wants his Panthers to mean even more to those fans, as well as all of Milwaukee, and to do so far beyond the basketball court.
“I think we need to be an integral part of what the city of Milwaukee does,” Baldwin said, “and I would love for that connection to happen.”
Baldwin insists his team be a visible presence in the community, and the team certainly made noise with an early-season 74-56 win at Big 12 team Iowa State. It was another game, however, that had a wider impact.
The Oct. 22 exhibition game against crosstown rival Marquette University benefited survivors of devastating hurricanes in the American South and Puerto Rico. The game raised nearly $35,000 in support of hurricane relief efforts.
But most of the time, the team’s community service will take place nowhere near a bouncing ball. In early October, the entire team and staff volunteered at the Panther Prowl, a 5-kilometer race to raise money for UWM student scholarships. Other connections will happen on a more personal level.
Like the girl in the Chicago-area hospital with whom Baldwin became pen pals. They met when he visited her during his previous role as assistant coach at Northwestern University. Or the children in foreign countries whom he’ll never meet, but who receive food shipments Baldwin and his family helped pack through the nonprofit Feed My Starving Children.
Baldwin’s family – wife Shawn, son Patrick Jr., and daughters Tatum, Brooke and Claire – have often been involved in outreach efforts. A quick scroll of his smartphone photos shows the family donning hairnets after helping fill food bags or dressed in running gear for the Race Against Hate, a Chicago-area event that raised money for YMCA racial justice and violence prevention programs.
“It touches our hearts,” the coach said, “to really see that we can, for a fleeting moment, be an inspiration for people, or make them smile, or forget about their pain.”
Baldwin said the Panthers program will work closely with the Boys & Girls Clubs, a favorite cause throughout UWM’s athletics department, via a number of events and partnerships. He’ll also help grow Pounce’s Pals, the Panthers fan club for kids in school through eighth grade.
Many of the overriding messages will be geared toward preparing children for success, helping kids “think about school and how student-athletes perform, and what it takes to get to this level,” Baldwin said.
He’s seen the impact even small gestures by his players and staff can have on kids. Children may start out a bit awestruck of college athletes, but they come away motivated after seeing how players and staff care about them and reach out in a more personal way.
“I think we need to take a leadership role,” Baldwin said. “Anything we can do, whether it’s boosting spirits or motivating young people to succeed in school, I just think it’s an added bonus to the community.”
UWM’s next home games are against Montana State on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m. and on Saturday, Dec. 16, at 1 p.m. against Loyola at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. For tickets or more information about getting involved with UWM athletics, visit mkepanthers.com.