Marianna chases her passion at High Five Sports


Marianna Dandini joins the kids in an exciting game of knockout. The balls are mid-air and heading for the hoop.

   The sound of playful screams and bouncing basketballs ring throughout the space. The small pitter-patters of running children vibrate beneath her feet. For Marianna Dandini (12), these sensations bring her delight and bliss.

   Dandini has been an employee at High Five Sports since last summer. There, she teaches children sports such as soccer and gymnastics and other important skills like teamwork and sportsmanship.

   “We focus on team building and teaching the kids respect, how to be kind to one another, how to listen and how to be a team player,” Dandini said.

   Dandini loves working with kids, which is why she was drawn to High Five Sports. She’s been able to form many connections with children and their parents.

   On a typical day at her work, she leads the kids in an afterschool camp that goes through a plethora of fun, intense activities. In one session, they’ll go through knockout, a basketball game, a soccer game, dodgeball, flag football, and a gymnastics lesson.

   In her final stretch of high school, Dandini finds difficulties juggling school and work, but her love for kids enables her to continue pursuing both. Especially with school being hybrid, she feels there’s more work that teachers are giving students. 

   When classes at High Five Sports end, the extra time for closing tasks like wiping and sweeping can be taxing on her academics. Nonetheless, she has dedicated more time during the weekends instead to spend time with the kids.

   Her unique experiences with them are what she enjoys most about her job, specifically with a child who is on the autism spectrum.

   “He has a hard time learning and keeping up with things, sports especially. I’ve made it important for him to feel confident in the sport and make sure he feels like he has an opportunity to do well,” Dandini said.

   With every kid she interacts with, she makes it a goal to empower them and to help them excel in the activities.

   “We’ve seen him actually do so well. He’s able to make the hoops where before, he didn’t really want to play. Now he’s like, ‘Yeah! I really want to play!’ And he’s so happy and excited to come. I feel like that’s a really special experience you might not be able to experience elsewhere.” Dandini said.

   For her, all the reward comes from the kids. Moments where they are excited to see her and crave for more games fill Dandini with joy.

   Dandini said, “What I’m doing is special, and it means something to them… I’m making an impact on their lives and helping them be successful, feel good and have fun.”

   Dandini plans on going to the University of Kentucky for nursing, specifically in the neonatal or pediatric unit, and her bond with the kids and their parents further prepares her for what she might experience in the future.