Mike Simmel is a ‘one-man locomotive’ with a substantial support staff when he brings his Bounce out the Stigma basketball camp to Gainesville.
The founder and director of the week-long clinic for young people who have special needs is abundant with the encouragement at the North Hall Community Center.
Simmel’s even-keeled approach and love of the sport comes from a place of inclusion, after he was limited as a child, due to his own epilepsy diagnosis.
Seeing an avenue for helping young people with developmental delays and physical limitations, the 13-year professional basketball player has made his life’s mission to show young people facing similar obstacles that the sky’s the limit.
“These kids, their whole life, people have been telling them what they can’t do,” said Simmel, who is taking his camp up and down the east coast this summer. “What we’re trying to tell them is what they can do. All those labels, we’re trying to erase through the game of basketball.”
And these kids have a blast, some who are just learning to dribble, while others have been at his camp all five times since it first came to Gainesville in 2017.
There’s lots of clapping by staffers and volunteers to make players confident enough to shoot the ball.
Simmel keeps the drills moving and interaction between everyone on the court at a high level to keep their attention.
And, even when they’re being competitive, there’s no scoreboard.
This is basketball for the sake of molding better and more confident young people for the rest of their lives.
“To see the kids smiling, to see them shine, is the highlight to me,” said Simmel, who has utilized his connections to foster his camps with numerous NBA franchises. “I’m using my platform, as a former professional player, to help kids who are in the same position that I was once in.”
Simmel, who founded the ‘grass-roots organization’ in 2005, has a well-oiled machine with local sponsorships and volunteers to keep the camp for up to 30 kids thriving.
Simmel’s long list of gratitude for assistance starts with their local corporate sponsors, including the Cantrell-Gainco Group, a Gainesville-based processing equipment company.
Bounce out the Stigma is far bigger than one stop every year.
However, coming to Gainesville is one of Simmel’s favorite experiences.
In 2022, Simmel has been assisted by the Gainesville High boys basketball program and its coach Chuck Graham, all eager participants in cheering on their younger peers.
In addition, Bounce out the Stigma’s leader is grateful for the support of parent volunteers, Jessica Holloway and Megan Leverette.
“Everyone here is phenomenal,” Simmel said. “This camp is bigger than one person. It takes the effort of the whole town.”
In June, Simmel has instructed clinics in Florida.
Next month, he will go back to the northeast, with Bounce out the Stigma in Philadelphia and numerous camps in New Jersey.