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‘It really got us through the quarantine’: How IU softball coach Shonda Stanton unified a community



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IU softball head coach Shonda Stanton, right, leads exercises for kids in her neighborhood. Stanton's sessions have drawn children of a wide range of ages from her 14-house neighborhood. Courtesy Photo

There’s a commotion coming from IU softball coach Shonda Stanton’s front yard. Her property is covered in gym equipment. Miniature orange cones dot the pavement. Agility ladders stretch across the road. Scooters lay aimlessly on the curb.

It’s 2 p.m. in Stanton’s neighborhood, and a group of about 10 kids eagerly waits.

That can only mean one thing: Class is in session.

The schools in Monroe County are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The students at IU have been sent home. The softball season has been canceled.

Stanton slips on a pair of sunglasses, suits up in a crimson windbreaker and sets out for her driveway.

It’s P.E. time.

In late March, just as coronavirus was shutting down normal life, Stanton had a conversation with her neighbor Coleman Kavgian in her driveway.

Stanton, a mother of three, and Kavgian, who has two daughters, talked about how their kids would adjust to school. And how, as parents, they would cope.

“Coleman, I’m doing P.E. everyday,” Stanton said.

When Kavgian got home later that night, she shot a text to Stanton.

“How about a coach Stanton P.E. class?” Kavgian typed. “Can we come over?”

The next day, Kavgian and her two daughters, Grace, 11, and Vera, 10, headed over to Stanton’s house. The first group consisted of Stanton’s son Josiah, 9, and the two girls. They made sure to abide by the social distancing guidelines.

“All right, give me 10 jumping jacks,” Stanton called out.

Grace worked her way through the set. After a couple more exercises, she was out of breath and gulped down half of her water.

“Okay, good warm-ups,” Stanton said.

Grace couldn’t believe it. That was just warm-ups? 

Next, they sprang over hurdles. They scurried up a rope ladder. They finished with jogging on a trail.

When Grace got home, she splashed the rest of the water on her face and laid in bed until dinner.

Grace was assigned to write an “I survived” paper for her fifth grade class. Her story was titled: “I survived Coach Stanton’s gym class.”

Soon, word of Stanton’s sessions spread around the single-street, 14-house neighborhood. Grace bragged to one of her friends about being able to workout with a Division I coach. Her friend wanted in. Others saw the lively crew outside.

Stanton kept it up almost every weekday. She put her class through ladder drills, ball handling skills, sprints and games of Simon Says.

“These kids are committed, I tell you,” Stanton said. “It gets the coaching juices in me flowing.”

To finish, they would circle up and share something about the day or what they were thankful for.

“It really got us through the quarantine,” Kavgian said. “It strengthened our neighborhood community. We’re so grateful for investing that time in our kids.”

In total, six families joined in. Parents who didn’t know each other besides a wave bonded. Kids got a break from online coursework. They stopped being “Zoombies,” as Stanton calls it.

A wide range of ages took part. Five year olds wobbled through a workout.

“I see you,” Stanton would say to motivate them.

Rainy days became the worst days. Everyone stayed home.

“We’re all on this earth running that relay race of life and living during this time,” Stanton said. “There’s a lot of people that this is a really traumatic time for. What can we do to get out from behind our laptop? Maybe it’s just picking up the phone and calling someone and saying ‘Hey, how are you doing.’”

In the softball program, they use the Chinese expression jiayou. The literal meaning is to pour oil into another person’s lamp. It’s a concept that Stanton, who is in her third year as head coach, has made one of the foundations of the program.

After more than a month of hard work and encouragement from Stanton, Grace noticed that the workouts got easier.

The small neighborhood has become more tightlyknit. They are planning baseball and kickball games. Last Thursday marked the last day of online school. Stanton gifted certificates and T-shirts for their final class.

Before the gathering, Josiah turned to his mom.

“Let’s work them hard,” he said.

And that’s what Stanton did.

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