Giving their all

Submitted photoLeft to right is Haven Hill, Abbey Green and Emily Jenkins picking out gifts to brighten the holidays for others.

TRAVERSE CITY — This time of year is known as the season of giving, and Traverse City Central’s girls basketball team is doing its part.

The Trojans have racked up hundreds of hours volunteering in recent weeks, part of an initiative head coach Heather Simpson has implemented within the program that has members of the freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams helping out for several local causes throughout the year. But this time of the year Central’s players have been especially busy.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there everywhere,” said Simpson, in her second year as the Trojans head coach. “We try to give back in any way we can.”

Trojan basketball players have been omnipresent at events like the Jingle Bell 5K and the Remembrance Run for Breast Cancer Awareness. They’ve also been active in helping special education students run a school store and have participated in the Glad Meals program at St. Francis, where lunch is served to the homeless and needy of the area with volunteers preparing, serving and cleaning up after the meal. Central’s players also partner up with the St. Francis girls basketball team — many of whom Simpson coaches in the fall as the Gladiators varsity volleyball coach — for the Hoops for Hope game between the two schools, which raises money to provide shoes for kids in the area through Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan and Girls on the Run.

“It’s something we’ve just done with all our teams,” Simpson said of all the volunteerism in which her players have been actively involved.

Giving back has become ingrained in the Central players, who don’t seem to mind participating in the extra activities. In fact, they find the work to be a benefit that provides a great deal of team unity. Part of that comes with being grouped with a different set of teammates each time.

“It’s really fun,” said Central senior Eliza McCall. “It’s nice to be able to have a positive influence in the community. So far it’s just been projects that people will ask coach Heather to help or volunteer for.”

As expected, the response of the community has been a positive one for the Central players.

“Usually it’s things like, ‘it’s really nice to see people your age helping,’ or ‘thank you for coming to help today,’ or ‘it’s nice to see your basketball program so dedicated.’” said McCall.

McCall said the Hoops for Hope game was her favorite project in which she’s participated.

“I really enjoyed Hoops for Hope,” said McCall. “It’s not necessarily volunteer hours, but it’s a foundation that provides running shoes for little girls in need. It’s a fun way to work with kids. It’s super nice to see the kids get something that they probably wouldn’t have if we wouldn’t have done the work we did.”

Simpson says many of the projects hit home with the players and give them perspective on real-life issues that those less fortunate must endure on a daily basis. She cited being able to help serve Glad Meals lunches, or the project where players received $40 and went out to buy a gift for a family that couldn’t afford to purchase one on their own.

“It helped them see that $40 doesn’t always go a long ways,” said Simpson. “It shows them that if the worst thing you have to do is get up and run some sprints for a crazy coach, then you have it pretty good.”

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