The gymnasium of Margaret R. Brown Elementary School on Thursday morning resembled a stockroom at a large toy store more than a place where the Bears play their home basketball games.
Toys lined the wall at the back of the gymnasium, and students eagerly filed in to get a glimpse of the gifts before taking a seat on the floor.
Excitement built quickly as there were enough toys for each of the school’s 600 students thanks to a very familiar organization.
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Pacers Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Indiana Pacers, paid a visit to the Seymour school as part of the annual Pacers Season of Giving Big Toy Giveaway.
Toys included large Star Wars characters, toy cars, Beauty and the Beast play sets, Super Mario Bros. figure pillows, Disney’s Cars seats and more.
It’s the ninth year the organization has conducted the program, which provides gifts to schools and other organizations serving youth.
The program came from a relationship between Pacers owner Herb Simon and his friend, Stephen Berman, who is the co-founder of JAKKS Pacific Toys.
Simon and Berman were recognized for their efforts during the Pacers’ Dec. 12 home game against the Milwaukee Bucks that featured NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
The project has provided more than a half million toys to youth, said Brent Rockwood, senior vice president of community and public relations for Pacers Sports and Entertainment.
Besides the toys, Thursday’s visit to the school included mascots, photos, videos and comments by Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott and Mayor Craig Luedeman, both of whom encouraged the crowd to cheer.
Rockwood said the organization likes to get police and fire departments involved because they value public servants.
“We embrace them and involve them in our efforts,” he said.
The visit was the final one of the year for the project and the third year it has gone to places outside Indianapolis.
Bringing cheer across the state shows the team’s reach, Rockwood said.
“There’s a reason why we’re called the Indiana Pacers because we’re a team of the entire state,” he said.
About a month ago, the organization reached out to the Seymour Police Department for help with the program.
The department selected the school, Detective Sgt. C.J. Foster said.
Based on what he saw, Rockwood said the department made a great decision.
“There’s a great community in Seymour and this school system in particular,” he said.
Isis Oritz, a fourth-grader, received a unicorn rainbow swirl maker. The toy features a unicorn that is used to make chilled dessert toppings. It makes a variety of styles and colors.
Oritz, 10, said she liked the gift and was thankful to the Pacers for bringing it to her.
“I think it’s really nice they came to give us some toys,” she said as students were returning to class. “I liked welcoming them.”
Reggie Polbito, a fourth-grader, was sporting a Reggie Miller jersey given to him by his father.
Although he never saw Miller play for the Pacers, Polbito said he is a fan and plays basketball during recess.
Polbito enjoys shooting 3-pointers, the shot that made Miller famous. When he retired in 2005, Miller held the record for most 3-pointers made in NBA history, but he is now second to Ray Allen. Miller — considered by many as the most beloved Pacer — played his entire 18-year career with the organization. The Pacers retired his jersey a year after his retirement.
Polbito’s favorite team is the Pacers, and his favorite player is Victor Oladipo.
He received an egg machine and toy cars and said he thought the visit from the team was cool.
“It was nice,” he said. “It was fun that Boomer was here.”
Principal Tony Hack, wearing his Indiana Pacers tie, said the event was fun to witness.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was a wonderful reminder that the season is about giving.”
Hack said the school regularly works with students to remember giving back and being kind is the way to make the world a better place. The gift presentation from the Pacers was an example of that, he said.
“It’s not only our job to help them learn to read and write but to help them be successful and contributing members to be a better society,” Hack said. “We’re always trying to teach these kids that it’s always better to be kind to others.”
Seeing his students receive a little something ahead of Christmas break was special.
“The smiles lit up the room,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share these smiles with others because as educators, we get to see those smiles every day, but it sure is nice to share them.”
Foster said it is heartwarming to see a child receive a toy, and it helps the department interact with youth in a different way.
“It also gives us the opportunity to bond with them a little bit,” he said.
That was on display as officers took part in the program, gave high-fives, distributed toys and took photos.
Rockwood agreed it was great to see the joy on the students’ faces as they lined up to receive their gifts.
He said the project demonstrates the organization’s commitment to winning on and off the court.
Winning in the game of basketball is simple. You only have to score more points than the other team.
Winning off the court looks a bit different, Rockwood said, and can’t be measured on a scoreboard.
“Off the court, it’s all about serving our local communities,” he said.
By the looks on students’ faces as they returned to class, Thursday was considered a victory by a wide margin.