At their home game against Franklin & Marshall College earlier this month, the top-ranked and undefeated men’s basketball team was surprised to see a crowd of young fans decked out in matching Swarthmore T-shirts cheering them on. It was not a school-sanctioned event, just the effort and organization of one passionate kindergarten teacher, her enthusiastic students, and their parents in support of No. 40, Nate Shafer ’20.
Shafer started visiting Sheri Carney’s kindergarten class at Swarthmore Presbyterian Nursery Day School during his sophomore year, as part of an Intro to Education course. His time there was only meant to last for the semester, but Shafer found himself inspired by Carney’s skill and excitement for teaching.
“She’s a phenomenal person,” says the economics and psychology major from McLean, Va., who plays forward for the Garnet. “It’s really impressive how Sheri works with her kids who have a wide variety of needs and are at different skill levels.”
By the end of the semester, Shafer found the experience so gratifying that he asked if he could keep coming after the class had ended. Ever since, he has visited the kids in the morning once a week to help with math assignments and reading lessons, lead morning circle, and play board games and basketball (on a low rim, of course).
Carney thought the decision for Shafer to continue his time at the school was natural. “There was a real connection, so it made sense for him to come back,” she says. “I thought, ‘This kid sees something more than just fulfilling a requirement.’ It was such a win-win situation for the kids to see someone who is fun to be around but also someone they’d quickly learn to respect. He just so enjoys the kids, and they enjoy him.”
Carney says that whenever Shafer would tell a story, like detailing his latest game, you could “hear a pin drop.” After Shafer established himself as a staple in the classroom, Carney thought she would express gratitude by having a few students watch the Garnet play. Pretty soon, a few became dozens, as more and more kids and parents from classes across the years took part.
“Literally, they look up to him,” Carney says of the 6-foot-6 Shafer, “but they look up to him in their hearts, too. We’re definitely going to miss him next year.”
For now, however, the students can still rejoice in Shafer’s company, as they did at the game on Feb. 8. When asked if he thought the kids had anything to do with the Garnet’s 85–68 win, Shafer responded: “Maybe. It was definitely a good psychological weapon. Got into the other team’s head.”
This past weekend, the men’s basketball team honored Shafer and Zac O’Dell ’20 on Senior Day before picking up a 96–69 victory over Dickinson College. With the win, the Garnet clinched the top seed in the Centennial Conference and the right to host the tournament for the fourth consecutive year.