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From Mohawk Gym to S. Africa; Pierson eager for ‘trip of a lifetime’

By Joe Buttweiler –

DECORAH – Mackenzie Pierson never dreamed while starring in Mohawk Gym that basketball would take her to Africa on a hoops and humanitarian mission.

She is one of about 15 members of the Luther College women’s basketball team who will go to South Africa in May for a visit that is much more than spreading the joy of basketball.

Besides sharing skills and bearing some gifts, the Luther women will be teaching girls that they can be strong and do great things with their lives – perhaps more than they ever imagined.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Pierson, 21, who was a junior shooting guard for the Norse this year.

The team expects to leave May 21 for the 10-day Hoops 4 Hope trip. The program links American colleges with basketball programs in South Africa. Besides teaching skills, the Luther women will be trying to empower the kids at the clinics. “It will be an opportunity to show them that women can be strong and powerful on and off the basketball court,” Pierson said.

Led by former women’s basketball coach Jane Hildebrand, Luther sent a team to South Africa three years ago, leaving shirts as gifts for their pupils. This time the team will leave basketballs, Pierson said.

More importantly, they hope to instill confidence in the girls they work with and leave them with a sense that women can achieve great things, Pierson said.

The team will go to Johannesburg and Cape Town, staying in hotels and hostels to help save on expenses. The trip is expected to cost $1,800 per student.

One of the highlights of the trip will be a night train ride. Passenger traffic in many developing countries is often limited to nighttime so the tracks are clear for freight during the day.

Based on what she’s heard from others who have made similar trips, Pierson said she expects the South African journey will be a life-changing experience. “The way they talked about it, it definitely changed their lives for the better. They don’t look at their lives the way they used to.”

No doubt she’ll be sharing her experiences with the North Iowa girls she coaches this summer. Pierson is an assistant coach with the North Iowa Fire, an Amateur Athletic Union program that works with girls from all over North Iowa.
“She’s very enthusiastic — does a great job with the kids,” said Fire Coach Curt Klaahsen, who’s better known as head coach of the Mason City Mohawks girls basketball team.

“I think she relates very well with the kids. She gets on them if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, but when they do it right she’s as excited as they are,” said Klaahsen, who coached Pierson as a Mohawk. She was a second team all-conference player her senior year.

Pierson is the daughter of Richard and Marcia Pierson of Mason City. She is majoring in exercise science and sports psychology, with a minor in biology. She hopes to go on to grad school for a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and ideally get a student coaching position.

Meanwhile, she’s looking forward to the trip to South Africa, and hoping she’ll be able to help inspire young women there to achieve great things. 

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