Students shoot hoops, give Christmases to families in need
— 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
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
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.