By Justine Espersen
Current and former Olivet students are finding big opportunities with Kankakee’s minor league basketball team.
The Kankakee County Soldiers are a part of the All American International Basketball Association. Olivet graduates Stan Chismark (‘11) and Erik Rhimehart (‘05) currently play for the Soldiers, while Zack Berky, who graduated in 2006, used to played for the team.
Chismark is a two-time IBA All-Star as the Soldiers begin their seventh season, their fifth in Kankakee.
Last year, the Soldiers brought home the 2010 International Basketball League championship during the Rival Winter Series and finished third in the 2011 spring season.
The Soldiers are led by Coach Barry Bradford, who is also the president of the organization. After 10 years of playing professional basketball, which included training alongside Michael Jordan and playing forthe Milwaukee Bucks, Bradford decided to invest in the IBA.
“There’s a need to have a community focus in the IBA league since [the Soldiers are] playing for a smaller town,” Bradford said.
He searched throughout Chicagoland and found Kankakee to be the best opportunity to better the community.
Bradford built his team on three main principles: to give players a platform to play in the NBA or play overseas, to always be a community builder, and
to use basketball as a foundation to encourage young people to achieve their dreams.
“I want us to be a confidence builder for the younger crowd, helping them believe in their dreams,” Bradford said.
Olivet graduates have been able to help the Soldiers follow through with their goals to better the community.
“Just last week we hosted Red Ribbon Week. It was a drug awareness assembly with at least 300 kids,” Chismark said. “We talked about how drugs keep them from reaching their potential in basketball or any other dream they have.”
Along with the players’ involvement, current Olivet students have had a chance to get involved with the Soldiers’ community service through internships.
Olivet women’s basketball player senior Denita Phelps was one of three Olivet students who interned with the team this past summer.
“Interning with the Kankakee County Soldiers was more than an internship,” Phelps said. “It was like becoming a part of a family.”
Bradford had nothing but praise for current and former Olivet students who have joined the Soldiers.
“Olivet has been a great feeder into our organization,” Bradford said. “All our athletes and interns have had great positive attitudes and fit these goals perfectly.”
The Soldiers will open their winter season Nov. 10 at Hidden Cove Sportsplex, located behind Northfield Square Mall in Bourbonnais.
The team will face the Rockford Riverdawgs at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.