Throughout the year, the Bearkats have been busy chasing conference regular-season championships and tournament titles.
As successful as they have been, the side many people don’t see of Sam Houston State’s student-athletes’ lives is their attention to community service.
Bearkat athletes from a variety of sports give back to the community throughout the year.
“Of all the 17 sports we have, every sport does this,” said Chris Thompson, Sam Houston State associate athletic director for student services. “That’s what cool to me. There are 425 athletes and one athlete from every sport that we have oversees our community service projects.
“Each team and coach does things monthly. There was a foundation that was set. The student-athletes are here in the Huntsville community. The people support those student-athletes in their athletic careers. In turn, the student-athletes like to give back. They’re representing the Huntsville community just as much as they’re representing Sam Houston State, their sport and their own family. There’s never a question. The athletes love to do this.”
For example, Bearkat student-athletes mentor at-risk schoolchildren or those in need of mentoring in the Bearkat Mentor program.
Another example is that the baseball team divides into groups and different groups will do community service in which they’ll go out and find their own projects.
The track and field team helps schools with antidrug programs.
The football team also works extensively with the Boys & Girls Club of Walker County.
The bowling team helps with a Special Olympics meet in Conroe.
“Every team does something that is just extremely special,” Thompson said. “What’s also neat is that the athletes will find community service projects and then just go do them. A lot of times, I don’t even know they’re doing them until after the fact.
“Over the years, it’s just kind of been built up and now they automatically do it. I don’t have to ask anybody to do this kind of stuff. That’s kind of cool to me.”
Additionally, the Houston Food Bank delivers food twice a year in Huntsville and Sam Houston State athletes help set up food stations and hand out the food.
Also, athletes from different sports play with the kids while families receive food.
An ongoing project that Sam Houston State athletes have been involved with is collecting pop tabs from soda cans. The money from those allows families to stay in the Houston Ronald McDonald House, which offers a home away from home to families with seriously ill children being treated in Texas Medical Center member institutions such as MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“Since 1997, we’ve collected pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House and we average around 300 pounds a year,” Thompson said. “We go down to the Ronald McDonald House in Houston every year and bring that to them and meet the families and meet the kids and spend some time with them. The athletes will bring some jump rope or playground balls and jigsaw puzzles for the kids to play with. It’s neat because you’re helping those families who need some brightness in their lives. We’ve been doing that since 1997.”
The pop tab program was so successful and deemed so important that the Southland Conference adopted it as well and now all 12 institutions in the league participate in the program as part of one of the conference’s year-long drives. Central Arkansas’ collections benefit the Ronald McDonald House in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Last month, the Bearkats volleyball team completed a book drive with Huntsville Intermediate School and collected more than 300 books that were all donated to Huntsville Intermediate’s library.
“When we visited with (Sam Houston athletics promotions team member) Marissa Maas, who was on the volleyball team at LSU, we wanted to know what they did community service-wise,” head coach Brenda Gray said. “It was something we thought we could add. She offered to decorate the boxes and get the word out. My daughter, Tayler, was able to get her classes to get on board and our parents gave books as well. It was a great idea.”
The books were collected at home games throughout the season.
“I live in this town and my doctors are all in this town,” Gray said. “I have raised my family in this town. I think giving back to the community that has given me so much is huge. We help the animal shelter, the Good Shepherd Mission, and our list is endless. I think community service is huge.”
It isn’t just Huntsville kids who benefit from the Kats’ drive to serve.
Earlier in the summer, the Sam Houston men’s basketball team traveled to Costa Rica to play a few exhibition games before beginning their preseason workouts.
While the Kats were in Central America, they took the time to visit the Asociación obras del Espíritu Santo orphanage and spend time with orphans there.
While at the orphanage, the Bearkats would either play in nursing rooms with the kids or go out and try their hand at soccer.
“It made you really cherish what you have here because they really don’t have anything,” senior Dakarai Henderson said following the Bearkats’ first practice. “Just us being over there with them, you could tell that we brought a lot of happiness to them.”
“We didn’t even speak the same language as them, but we could see it on their faces,” Jamal Williams added.
“They’re not doing these things to be recognized. They’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” Thompson said. “It’s not about getting awards or taking pictures. It’s the right thing to do. They all agree. That’s what makes me the most proud because they know it’s just the right thing to do and they just do it.”
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