The University of Iowa men's basketball team has been enjoying a nice run the last few weeks, including an opening round victory against Dayton in the National Invitational Tournament, and Danny Tyson is enjoying the experience right along with the Hawkeyes.
Tyson is working as an intern with the team thanks to the UI College of Education's REACH: Realizing Educational and Career Hopes Program, a two-year transition certificate program for students with multiple intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities.
"I've had the pleasure of being at REACH since before the first student arrived, of seeing it grow into a highly successful and respected program," says Deb Larson, career development instructor for REACH. "It is thanks to internship sites such as men's basketball that we have been able to be so successful.”
And the program has a fan in Fran McCaffery, head coach of the UI men’s basketball program.
"It's great, it really is," McCaffery says. "The program itself is absolutely fabulous. I think, if in any way we can help an individual or help that program, I am 100 percent behind it."
Tyson assists the men's basketball team managers with practice set-up. During games, he sits with the other managers and is part of the "team family."
"Everyone is so nice and treats me nice," says Tyson, a second-year member of REACH who hails from New York. "I met new people, and I never thought I would be able to do this. It is a great experience and a lot of fun. It is like a dream."
It has been just as rewarding for the Iowa men's basketball team.
"It has been going great," McCaffery says. "Everybody loves Danny. He is easy to like, he is easy to be around. He is funny and is a hard worker. Whenever you have somebody that everybody likes, and works hard, they are great to have in your organization."
Last fall, REACH was nationally recognized as the premier post-secondary program for persons with disabilities, appearing on a list of the “20 Incredible Colleges for Special Needs Students” by bestcollegesonline.com.
One goal of REACH is for the students to create lasting friendships. For Tyson, that is exactly what has happened with the Hawkeyes. He was excited when he discovered Melsahn Basabe was a fellow New Yorker.
"He grew up right near Melsahn, so they bonded right away," McCaffery says. "They were buddies last year before Danny even became part of the Iowa basketball family."
Both REACH and the Hawkeye basketball program have embraced the relationship.
"This is the second internship REACH has had with the men's basketball team," Larson says. "During both experiences, the men's basketball staff, coaches, and players have overwhelmingly embraced the REACH student interns into the 'team family.'
“Before the first practice, we [Deb Larson and Brian Campbell, REACH career staff members] met with the team and explained the REACH program and answered questions. Thanks to coach McCaffery's leadership, and (director of basketball operations) Jerry Strom's planning, Danny was set up to succeed with his interactions with the team.”
Tyson’s unique opportunity has been a success from the outset.
"As we came out of the locker room on day one, I observed multiple players, without any prompting, go up to Danny and shake his hand and introduce themselves," Larson says. "From day one, Danny was accepted as part of the team, regardless of his disability and daily challenges.
"He is treated just like everyone else,” Larson continues. “He attends practices and games and is in on all the jokes. He shares both the highs and lows of the team. To be included in such a manner has gone a long way in helping Danny build the skills that will be transferable to any future career path he may explore."
REACH and the Hawkeyes are looking to continue the effort in the future.
"We are very optimistic that we will be able to continue our strong collaborative effort with men's basketball so that future REACH students will have the same wonderful opportunity as Danny has experienced this year," says Larson. "We would love to continue having a REACH student intern with men's basketball every year."