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The words echoed through St. Joseph gym as Buckets Blakes bellowed a positive message to anxious grade-schoolers.

"Enthusiasm!" he shouted.

There was no shortage of that for this 33-year-old Harlem Globetrotter and his Missoula audience. Blakes was in town to promote his team's CHEER program, which is an acronym for Cooperation, Healthy mind and body, Effort, Enthusiasm and Responsibility.

"Growing up in a big family, my mom and dad always did positive things for us, put us in positive situations," said Blakes, who grew up in Phoenix with nine siblings. "We lived in a rough neighborhood, but we didn't know it was rough because our parents made it fun for us.

"This is my opportunity to share with kids what I've learned from my parents."

Blakes, who played college basketball at Wyoming, has been a member of the Globetrotters for eight years. His team plays 270 games in roughly five months and will appear at the Adams Center on Wednesday, April 14.

Roughly 70 percent of the Globetrotters' fan base is children, which is particularly pleasing for their point guard.

"I get lots of letters and cards and e-mails and it's a great feeling," Blakes said. "I actually keep as many as I can.

"Hopefully, I've touched some kids today. If I've touched one kid I know I did my job. That little kid will be a messenger for me when I'm gone."

Blakes' message, designed with help from the U.S. Department of Education, covers everything from being responsible in the classroom and coming to school with a smile on your face to being true to yourself.

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"Do the right thing when no one else is looking," he proclaimed to a packed house. "The more responsible you are, the more privileges you're going to have in life. A lot of doors will open for you.

"And be you. That's what makes you stick out amongst the rest of the world. We all do things differently. We all have different minds, bodies and souls. If you want to stand out, just be yourself."

Blakes dreamed of being a pro athlete from the time he was a child. He had scholarship offers in football, track and basketball, choosing hoops because "you don't have to worry about the weather."

"I'm definitely living my dream playing for the world's most famous and greatest team - most handsome as well," he joked.

"I talk to Curly quite often," he added, referring to Globetrotters legend Curly Neal. "He always told me, ‘There's something special that brought you to this team so make sure you take advantage of it.' "

Blakes sprinkles in humor and ball-handling tricks with his CHEER message to kids. Student participation is also part of the show as he re-creates the Trotters' famous Magic Circle with willing participants.

The Globetrotters visit more than 200 schools and 150 hospitals a year. Talking to youngsters never grows old for Blakes.

"The Globetrotters are known as guys with great character," he said. "Not only guys with great basketball talent, but guys who will be able to carry that torch and be able to go into the schools, into hospitals and rec centers and visit kids and get that positive message across."

Sports reporter Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or at bill.speltz@lee.net.

 

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