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Her heart on fire, Notre Dame forward Maddy Westbeld is a force for good

IMG_9992by:Tyler Horka07/05/24

tbhorka

Maddy Westbeld is one of the lucky ones. The fifth-year Notre Dame forward would be the first to say so.

Since she was in grade school just outside of Dayton, Ohio, and it became clear she was physically gifted enough — she’s 6-3 and primarily plays the post but possesses the agility of a guard — to thrive on the court at the highest level, Westbeld’s No. 1 goal has always been to play professionally. First, she knew she’d have to make a name for herself collegiately.

Westbeld saw her sister, Kathryn, do both before she even graduated from high school.

Former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw called Kathryn “the glue” of the Fighting Irish’s 2018 national championship-winning team, the second in program history. High praise from a legend who has a statue in front of the arena.

Kathryn went undrafted in the WNBA but played in three preseason games for the Los Angeles Sparks. She didn’t stick around in that league, one Westbeld said is her No. 1 post-Notre Dame destination, but she has played pro ball overseas for over half a decade now.

She did the thing. Is still doing the thing. Her younger sister has kept a close eye.

“It’s important to have a mentor,” Westbeld said. “It’s everything. When you see anyone who’s successful, the first thing they talk about is the mentor they had who they were able to see go through it, who failed, who succeeded and then were able to get a step higher.”

That mentor doesn’t have to be a sibling. Often times, it isn’t. Not everyone has a national champion, professional basketball veteran as an older sister.

Cognizant of that, Westbeld has conducted a youth basketball clinic in her hometown two years running. This year’s took place on June 7 and was put on by Westbeld, Notre Dame senior point guard Olivia Miles, Westbeld’s personal trainer Xander Smart and a surprise appearance from … Kathryn.

“It was full circle for me to stand in front of those kids and then see my sister who was also there right beside me,” Westbeld said.

They all joined forced to foster the next age of young hoopers and to illustrate that the next big-name baller from Kettering, Ohio, doesn’t have to be a Westbeld. Westbeld said her favorite part of the camp, which was split into two sessions at Trent Arena at Fairmont High School, one two-hour period for 1st through 6th graders and another for 7th through 12th graders, was seeing Smart so engaged and insistent on giving the kids every ounce of energy he could offer them.

For the Westbelds, Miles and Smart, this wasn’t a four-hour throwaway kind of day. It was an opportunity to change lives. Encouragement and guidance goes a long way.

“That was the most important part of the whole camp,” Westbeld said. “Of course it’s about ball handling, skill developing and different stuff like that, but the main part and the reason I feel like kids should get the chance to do this is because we’re here to be mentors.”

Westbeld isn’t just focused on the youth in Ohio. She’s a regular volunteer at the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Joseph in South Bend, Ind.

“I’m about to spend my fifth year here,” Westbeld said. “In a lot of ways, I see South Bend as a home to me. I grew up here looking up to my sister. It’s a very similar feeling; I have an obligation to give back to it.

“I keep thinking about the legacy of what I want to leave behind. The reason I came here was so that I could create my own legacy. Thinking about what that is, I want to inspire whatever community that I touch, whatever community I’m engulfed in, so that by the time I leave the people who are there are inspired to do more, to act more. That is a really important part of the platform that I’ve been given.”

Westbeld recently graduated with a major in finance and a minor in poverty studies. Odd juxtaposition? Absolutely. Westbeld said she gets that all the time.

But to her, it was a purposeful combination.

“Honestly, I’m so grateful to have had both perspectives of economics,” she said. “It’s definitely something I want to follow and see where that path takes me. It’s something I’m really passionate about, and I love to learn about it. It’s something about people. The human interaction is something that I love.”

That’s why coaching camps comes naturally to Westbeld. She said the easiest part of it all was the teaching; working one-on-one with young basketball players to sharpen their skills. Working in group settings to teach the game as it’s meant to be played — as a team.

A bit more difficult? Finding a way to set her camp apart from all the others. She did her best in that regard by partnering it with a financial literacy nonprofit. Each camper, of which Westbeld said there were more of than there were last year, received a free book explaining the ins and outs of being smart with money.

Westbeld is a non-degree-seeking student at Notre Dame for her final year. She said she’s going to spend her final 12 months in South Bend speaking to financial advisors. Picking their brain, learning as much as she can about the way the world works. The more she knows, the more she’s able to pass on to others to leave the place better than she found it. She called it “planting seeds” — ones that grow into something worthwhile and sustainable.

“My heart is on fire about it,” Westbeld said.

That makes her a mentor worth looking up to.

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