ROCKFORD — Misty Opat has led the Rock Valley College women’s basketball team to three national championships and a runner-up finish in just the past five years on the court.
But it’s off the court where Opat and her basketball players — and all athletes at Rock Valley — are making a difference. Opat, in her seventh season as the women’s head basketball coach, also has been Rock Valley’s athletic director since 2010, and she started a community-service outreach program that has grown quickly.
“We started out telling all of our coaches that we hired that we wanted each team to do at least three community service projects a year,” Opat said. “And it has just taken off from there. Everybody has bought in, and it’s really become something that a lot of people around here pride themselves on.”
Opat said they have hired the right coaches and recruited the right players during her tenure, and those people have helped expand the college’s role in the community along the way. While it started as “basic community-service stuff, like roadside cleanups and working with special needs clinics,” it has grown into a service program others annually call upon for help.
“Now the community reaches out to us because they know we’ll be there,” Opat said.
Recently, RVC athletes have helped by volunteering at the Cherry Valley Public Library, Habitat for Humanity and the Ultimate Disc National Tournament. They also have served turkeys at a local food pantry.
“It’s so much fun to watch these young student-athletes’ faces light up when they see how much people appreciate their help,” Opat said. “It transforms some people. It changes you in such a good way.”
Jay Taft: 815-987-1384; firstname.lastname@example.org; @JayTaft