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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sports clinic featuring NBA star Lenny Wilkens and actor Danny Glover aims to help Native youth ‘Rise Above’

Rise Above, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering local Native youth with sports as its compass, is hosting a sports and wellness clinic at HUB Sports Center in Spokane Valley Monday, with a host of celebrity supporters in tow, including NBA Hall of Fame player and coach Lenny Wilkens, who led the Seattle Super Sonics to their only NBA championship in 1978, and actor Danny Glover.

Rise Above is in its sixth year and cofounders Jaci McCormick and Brad Myers are looking to promote their mission of wellness on their biggest stage yet.

The Washington Ready plan took effect on June 30, allowing public attendance regulations and allowing community events to expand. Washingtonians can wave goodbye to capacity and physical distancing limitations, except mass indoors events with over 10,000 attendees. Rise Above’s event is expecting 150 to 250 kids from seven different local tribes to break a sweat in basketball and volleyball exercises Monday afternoon.

Growing up on the Nez Perce Reservation, McCormack stayed her athletic course by zeroing in on basketball as a distraction from issues prominent in the Native community. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Native youth face high rates of mental illness, unemployment, substance abuse and poverty. Thirty-five percent of Native youth are less likely to pursue higher education while nearly half will experience homeless. McCormack, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, is giving back in the best way she knows how: using sports to beat the odds stacked against her community.

“The mentoring I received and the life skills I gained shaped my future,” McCormack said on sports’ role in her life early on. “My focus is to provide this for other Native kids, helping them to live healthy lives and fulfill their dreams.”

Wilkens, Glover and other athletic stars will be on hand to lead clinics and talk about the importance of wellness. Wilkens will facilitate the basketball clinic. The three-time NBA Hall of Famer who built his love in basketball in Brooklyn relates to McCormack’s experience.

“Rise Above represents an opportunity for all individuals to rise above their current circumstances. Helping youth discover the tools to live their best lives and be their best selves every day, through sports and personal development, is key to building tomorrow’s leaders,” Wilkens said in a Rise Above press release.

U.S. Olympians Ruthie Bolton and Spencer Haywood, both former pro basketball players, are set to make an appearance as well, along with U.S. volleyball team member Liz Masakayan and former NBA star Dale Ellis.

“Lethal Weapon” star Glover’s activism has been noted with his participation in San Francisco State University’s five-month student strike for ethnic studies during the ‘60s. In the display of culture, sports and music, Grammy Award-winning rock band Portugal. The Man will perform live music during exercises.

For Rise Above, this is the first of many milestone events. McCormack, whose basketball exploits include the game-winning basket to send the Illinois State University Redbirds to the NCAA tournament in 2005, signed a movie deal to produce “Rise Above,” a feature-film movie on her life as a Native basketball legend. A directing team will be present during the clinic.

While the movie is on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, McCormack and Myers now have plans for a Rise Above center, bringing their mission into a brick-and-mortar building. Planned to take place in Airway Heights on the Kalispel Tribe’s land, the space will house a dozen basketball courts, other athletic equipment and classrooms for instruction and physical therapy. McCormack anticipates it to be the first of many centers across the country.

In light of Rise Above’s clinic, the Kalispel Tribe announced it will donate all its proceeds from their annual Paddler Charity Classic in support of McCormack’s mission to empower Native youth. This year’s Paddler Charity Classic golf tournament takes place July 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kalispel Golf and Country Club.

The Tribe has committed to donating all golf tournament proceeds to Rise Above for the next five years. “I could not be more thankful to have these incredible partners come together in support of empowering Native youth,” says McCormack.