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February 12, 2009

Tech student-athletes remain active in local communities


This past fall, members of the men’s basketball team read to children at local elementary schools.

Practice, class, rehabilitating injuries, film review, training room, study hall and tutoring sessions – it’s all in a day’s work for a Hokie student-athlete … or is it? These student-athletes still find time to give back. They know the importance of building and fostering relationships with members of the Blacksburg and New River Valley communities. They also know that they are viewed as role models to the younger members of the Hokie Nation.

Community outreach is just one of the five areas of the NCAA CHAMPS/Life Skills Program in which the Office of Student Life mirrors its program. The Office of Student Life organizes Hokies with Heart requests, as well as team community outreach events.

The 2008 fall semester kept many of the athletics teams busy with outreach events throughout the New River Valley.

In October, both basketball teams served as the hosts for clinics for local children. The men’s basketball team put on a clinic at both the Blacksburg and Christiansburg Boys and Girls Club of New River Valley. The women’s basketball team held a clinic for students at head coach Beth Dunkenberger’s alma mater, Shawsville Elementary.

Members of the cross country and track and field teams put together a campaign for shoes. In one afternoon, members of teams and the community donated more than 300 shoes. Donated shoes were sent to Soles4Souls, which facilitates the donations of shoes to those in need worldwide, and the Nike Recycling Center in Wilsonville, Ore., to be used in the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe Program. Established in the early 1990s, Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program collects old, worn-out athletic shoes for recycling, transforming them into Nike Grind, a material used in creating athletic and playground surfaces as well as select Nike products.

“Community outreach is a great way to give back to the Blacksburg and New River Valley community that supports us so diligently in our athletic and academic endeavors as Hokie athletes,” cross country runner Natalie Sherbak said. “Community outreach is a way to humbly care about others more than ourselves. In our sports, we are very self-focused on becoming the best athletes we can be, but through community outreach, we seek to make our local community and the world the best place it can be for the benefit of others – and that is truly rewarding.”

The Hokie student-athletes also took part in two annual traditions last semester – Hokie Night at Gilbert Linkous Elementary and volunteering at the Montgomery County Christmas Store. During Hokie Night, members from each team signed autographs and interacted with the students and families from Gilbert Linkous Elementary.

Each year, during the months of November and December, Hokie student-athletes volunteer their time at the Montgomery County Christmas Store in downtown Christiansburg. Although the store is only open for one week in December, a great deal of hard work is required from volunteers to get the store up and running. In November, student-athletes helped by organizing and stocking shelves with toys, clothes and other donated items.

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee also put together a brother/sister team toy drive competition to collect toys for the Christmas Store. The women’s soccer and baseball teams won and received ice cream at the fall Reading Day Luncheon as appreciation for their efforts.

“We feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to do community outreach as a team,” women’s soccer coach Kelly Cagle said. “Not only do we learn that through giving, we allow others to receive, but we also believe it is a special opportunity for our women’s soccer team to come together off the field. We believe this time is invaluable to us and to our community. It has become an expectation on our team and in our athletic department to get involved, and we believe that this kind of outreach is integral to our growth as people and athletes.”

The lacrosse team helped the students of Harding Avenue Elementary celebrate Halloween at the school’s annual Fall Festival. The team helped with the “Haunted Hallway,” concessions and games. Harding Avenue Elementary has been the lacrosse team’s community service partner for several years. The team also participates in the Lunch Buddies program, which was initiated in the fall of 2005. Once a week, team members attend lunch with a specific class that they “adopted.” The program has been very successful and now includes the women’s soccer team and its partner, Margaret Beeks Elementary School, and the volleyball team and Kipps Elementary School.

During the spring semester, several student-athletes will participate in the Winning Choices events, which have become a staple in the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system. As part of the Character Education Program of MCPS, the Winning Choices events reinforce positive character traits. Virginia Tech student-athletes serve as keynote speakers at local middle schools and promote positive character and good citizenship.