At Some Schools, Sports Are Only Part of Athlete Pride and Joy

  • Women's Basketball Team at Sunshine Gardens Assisted Living Community
April 2011 -- For the women of Colorado Christian University's varsity basketball team, community service isn't a once-a-season thing. It isn't done in obligation or as a public-relations gimmick. At CCU, it's integral to the lifestyle each student embraces when choosing to compete for the Cougars. In total, 180 hours of volunteer service are part of the graduation requirement for every student -- athletes not excluded -- which makes for a rather heavy workload to fit into class and sports schedules. So, convenience also has nothing to do with it.

This March, during CCU's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division-II Women's Basketball Tournament (Durango, Colo.), a 17-player Lady Cougars team joyfully made a detour to the Sunshine Gardens Assisted Living Community.

"Coach told us on the bus headed down to Durango," explained Christina Whitelaw, a First Team All-Region pick and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. She led the Cougars in scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, and three-point field-goal percentage, key factors in their berth at the tournament. With 158 steals in the regular season, Whitelaw was actually the top NCAA player in the category (including Division I) and finished only 44 off the all-time record.

Yet even her steely game face beamed at the news from Head Coach Tim Hays. "Right away everyone got excited," she adds. "It was really cool to think that, even in such a serious tournament, we were still taking time out to serve."

The Sunshine Gardens trip was arranged in part by facility manager Trish Kellogg, wife of the women's head coach at nearby Fort Lewis College, one of CCU's top competitors. Up close and personal with residents, "some of the girls led a bingo tournament for several of the women," Hays reflected, "while a few serenaded a gentleman who loved to play the piano. Others went room to room and encouraged those who were not feeling well or were unable to make it to the activities."

It wasn't the first time the team detoured this year, either. During Thanksgiving break they spent four days with the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming -- a seven-hour drive from campus -- helping in schools and communities on the Wind River Reservation. Loaded down with 7,000 pounds of turkey, food supplies, and clothing collected by CCU students and staff, the ladies and coaches distributed donations to low-income families and helped run P.E. classes and mentor kids at a local grade school.

This May, they'll travel to Costa Rica -- for the second time -- to volunteer with Food for the Hungry. The nonprofit organization hopes to feed 20,000 children during the 10-day project.

"We're thrilled that our women's team had an opportunity like the one in Durango," commented CCU Director of Athletics Darren Richie. But he emphasized the context of their achievement within CCU's holistic program that develops athletes as scholars, individuals, and caring citizens.

Although the team exited the tournament in the first round, Hays is optimistic at their potential for the small university playing in a very tough conference. Besides, none of his players saw the Durango trip as a loss. Levity more aptly describes the bus ride home, suspended in a ray of lighthearted memories from Sunshine Gardens.

"Like most of our athletic teams, this group does a great job in their community engagement," Richie said. "We're proud to have them representing Colorado Christian University, on and beyond the court."

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