No matter what month it shows on the calendar, people involved in the Wiley College athletic programs always find ways to give back to their community. As Christmastime approaches, Wiley athletes and coaches take their community service to the proverbial “next level” the same way they do competing.
The Wildcat and Lady Wildcat athletes are in the midst of what could be one of their most successful sports campaigns in recent memory collectively across all sports, but even though the Wildcats are giving the college and Marshall community something to cheer about on the court, it is their work away from the arena which is making Wiley College players the big men and women on campus and in town.
“Giving back to the community is what Wiley is all about, as for us, it is both a personal and professional commitment,” Wiley College Director of Athletics Janet Eaton said. “Wiley is a place where everyone can succeed. We want to share our blessings with others in our community and allow them to prosper.”
Christmastime is a time for giving, and this spirit was not lost on the Wiley College Department of Athletics. With student-athletes and their teams leading the way, athletes collected approximately 50 toys to distribute to children in the Marshall area in a Toy Drive for the Boys and Girls Club of Marshall.
Wiley College’s Toy Drive is now in its sixth year of existence, and as the Wildcat basketball teams have combined for a 20-2 record prior to the Christmas break, their on-court power is matched only by their off-the-court generosity. For the second year in a row, Wiley College hoopsters and coaching staff spent Thanksgiving Day at Trinity Episcopal Church in Marshall, feeding and serving meals to needy families.
“This event was something which was orchestrated by Coach Eaton in which our teams have embraced,” men’s basketball coach Andre Payne said. “We try to teach our guys how there is more to being a Wiley student-athlete than being able to dribble a basketball. It’s also about giving back and lending a hand.”
Serving meals for large groups of people is nothing new to Payne, as on game days throughout the basketball season, one can smell the barbecue chicken he cooks for the concession stand several hours prior to tipoff. It’s hardly been a diversion, as the men are 9-1 and ranked for the first time since 2008.
Payne’s tenacity for cooking for a large number of people has been put to greater use on Thanksgiving.
Since his arrival in Marshall in 2006, Payne and his wife Nikki have opened their home and brought Thanksgiving to dozens of students at Wiley College who did not leave campus for the holiday season.
The Paynes, with help from Wiley’s ABL food service, served a Thanksgiving dinner at the Ingram Hall dormitory the day before Thanksgiving. On the day of, they opened their home for the community.
“We have a lot of students who are not able to get home for Thanksgiving, whether it’s because of sports, or they are simply too far away from home,” Payne said. “We want to do whatever we can to give our students a Thanksgiving meal and show them there are people who care about them.”
Wiley College athletics is always looking for opportunities to serve, but they’re sometimes found first.
While the basketball teams and coaching staff were serving Thanksgiving meals at Trinity, Eaton met with Karen Abney Neal-Hill, who had business contacts with the Salvation Army. The meeting presented Wiley with the chance to ring the famous Salvation Army Bell, and ring the bell they did en masse.
“We were very excited to have Wiley student-athletes participate,” said Marshall Salvation Army office manager Tammy Whitaker. “Our board members were amazed and proud of them for doing this.”
Several dozen Wiley athletes from every Wildcat team took their turns ringing the bell at locations throughout the city, including Wal-Mart, Brookshire Brothers, Walgreen’s, Kroger’s and Super 1 Foods.
“It is a priceless feeling as the AD at this campus to see our athletes giving up their time to help in the community,” Eaton said. “There aren’t enough words to express the joy of seeing them give back.”