Stu­dents shoot hoops, give Christ­mases to fam­i­lies in need

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By MAR­CUS DIETERLE mdi­[email protected]­cil­whig.com

— Knees bent and eyes fo­cused on the back­board above her, ju­nior Jes­sonie Wrights springs up and launches her free throw shot. The bas­ket­ball bounces against the rim be­fore swoosh­ing through the net, rack­ing up another tally on Wright’s score­card.

As Christ­mas mu­sic played in­side North East High School gym­na­sium, Wright and her fel­low NEHS girl’s bas­ket­ball team­mates each took 50 free throw shots Satur­day morn­ing to raise money for fam­i­lies in need this Christ­mas as part of the 16-year-old Shoot­ing San­tas pro­gram.

Wright, who is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram for her third year, said there’s noth­ing more in the spirit of Christ­mas than giv­ing back to those in need.

“Just be­ing able to buy the stuff for those peo­ple and to see how happy it makes them is def­i­nitely the Christ­mas spirit,” she said.

Be­fore Satur­day, each player vis­ited fam­ily, friends, neigh­bors and any­one else they knew to ask for them to pledge a do­na­tion for Shoot­ing San­tas.

Donors could ei­ther pledge a flat do­na­tion or a do­na­tion per shot that the player suc­cess­fully made.

Af­ter Satur­day’s event, the play­ers will now go to those who pledged in or­der to col­lect the do­na­tions. Later this month, the young women will meet at Wal­mart to pur­chase their as­signed

NORTH EAST

fam­i­lies’ gifts based on each fam­ily’s needs and wants this hol­i­day sea­son.

The team’s coach, Chris Had­jis, said the Shoot­ing San­tas pro­gram helps his girls gain a bet­ter per­spec­tive on how less for­tu­nate fam­i­lies live.

“A lot of these young ladies take it for granted that on Christ­mas day they’re go­ing to come down and Santa Claus is go­ing to have candy in their stock­ings and presents un­derneath their tree … They get to see what it’s like, that not ev­ery­body eco­nom­i­cally is in the same sit­u­a­tion,” Had­jis said.

Se­nior Grace Buegel, who has par­tic­i­pated in the an­nual pro­gram all four of her years at NEHS, agreed that it is an eye­open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all the play­ers who par­tic­i­pate.

“It’s very heart­warm­ing,” she said. “You never re­ally know how good you have it un­til you see some­one else’s side of it.”

Af­ter leav­ing the fam­i­lies’ homes each year, Had­jis said his play­ers haven’t ever come away with a dry eye.

“I have never seen a time that these girls haven’t come out of the house teary eyed af­ter they see the hap­pi­ness of the par­ents af­ter they de­liver these gifts to them,” he said.

Fresh­men Alexis Grant and Cai­lyn Haw­ley are par­tic­i­pat­ing in Shoot­ing San­tas for the first time this year. While they don’t have any per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences to draw on, they said the older play­ers have told them about past years and they are both ex­cited to join in on the tra­di­tion this year.

“It feels re­ally good ac­tu­ally to know that we’re go­ing to give presents to ac­tual fam­i­lies,” Grant said.

“It’s fun know­ing that we’re go­ing to make an im­pact on the fam­i­lies,” Haw­ley added.

Each player had her strat­egy for shoot­ing suc­cess­ful free throws.

“I per­son­ally line my foot up with the cen­ter of the bas­ket, take a drib­ble, spin the ball and go up, and it nor­mally goes in,” Buegel said.

“Make sure your knees are bent, el­bows are L-shaped, and use your legs,” Grant said.

But for Wright, there’s no sin­gle check­list for per­fectly sink­ing the shot.

“I’ve been play­ing for six years now,” she said. “My fresh­man year is when I started to do foul shots a lot bet­ter … You can’t just ‘get it.’ You have to prac­tice.”

Af­ter play­ing soc­cer for some time, fresh­man Ash­ley Mar­son got into bas­ket­ball be­cause wanted a change of pace.

“I just wanted to play some­thing new and I started play­ing … I just kept go­ing with it ever since,” she said.

Mar­son said she en­joys hav­ing fun and learn­ing new things in this spor t. But most of all, she likes be­ing part of a team.

Shoot­ing San­tas not only gives back to the fam­i­lies in need; Ha­jdis said the girls also be­come a bet­ter team both on and off the court through their ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether.

“Most of them know each other in the hall­way and this and that, but this gives them an op­por­tu­nity to bond ... This is where they’ll ac­tu­ally come to­gether as a fam­ily,” he said. “When they go shop­ping, when they see what clothes they picked out or they like to brag about how they got this for a good sale, it’s re­ally an amaz­ing thing on how dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties can come to­gether for one cause.”

As Christ­mas draws nearer, Buegel said the hol­i­day shouldn’t be a priv­i­lege that only those who can af­ford it should en­joy. She said all fam­i­lies should be able to cel­e­brate this time of year — and she and her team­mates are work­ing to make that dream come true.

“Christ­mas is a time to be spent with fam­ily and re­al­ize what’s im­por­tant to you as a fam­ily … Ever yone deser ves a good Christ­mas be­cause it cre­ates mem­o­ries and it brings you guys to­gether,” she said. she

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY MAR­CUS DIETERLE

With the flick of a wrist, se­nior Grace Buegel lobs a bas­ket­ball to­ward the hoop in front of her in the hopes of rack­ing up another free throw shot on her score­card.

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