July 22, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big impact. That’s what members of the South Carolina men’s basketball team hoped to do Wednesday afternoon after spending time with youngsters from the Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia. The Gamecocks brought the kids into the Colonial Life Arena to share a message that they are loved and appreciated as part of the “8K in 8 Days” community outreach campaign for the men’s basketball program.
“We want them to see that if you work hard and make good decisions, then you can move forward in life,” said John Holler, president and chief executive officer of Epworth Children’s Home. “Our children have come from all kinds of situations. A lot of times these kids don’t have the advantages that other children have, so they sometimes they feel unappreciated, unloved or uncared for. Events like this are really great so they can come to a special place and meet with athletes who are leaders. Their eyes just get wide open.”
The children at the event ranged in ages from four to 12 years old. Some were shy at first when the student-athletes invited them on to the floor to play basketball, but it didn’t take long for smiles to emerge and laughter to be heard throughout the arena after some quality one-on-one time with the Gamecocks. Some of the smaller children were hoisted to the rim by the student-athletes so they would know what it felt like to dunk a basketball.
“My favorite part was dribbling the basketball with them,” said one of the eleven-year-old girls in attendance. (Gamecocksonline did not identify the children due to privacy rules.) “I was so nervous at first. It was fun. I want to come see them play.”
“I was really looking forward to this,” said another eleven-year-old girl. “I had met A’ja Wilson from the girls team, so it was neat to meet them today. They’re very tall.”
We just want to bond with them and make them smile. We definitely feel like we are role models for these kids.
In addition to playing basketball with the Gamecocks, the children enjoyed a tour of the Colonial Life Arena facilities, including the locker room and weight room.
“I had one kid come up and say ‘I remember you’ after we stretched,” said junior Sindarius Thornwell. “He was quiet at first, but then he was trying to take the ball from me when we were on the tour, so we were having fun. We had one group that was running around everywhere and wanting to sit in every seat. Another group wanted (sophomore) TeMarcus (Blanton) to demonstrate how to lift weights. We had other kids asking questions such as how many pairs of shoes we had.”
The Gamecocks later signed autographs and fielded questions from the youngsters, ranging from their favorite type of pizza, their favorite flavor of cupcake, their favorite subject in school, and what inspired them to play basketball. While the children certainly enjoyed their time with the Gamecocks, the student-athletes also gained some perspective.
“We’re pretty lucky with what we have,” Thornwell said. “Some of us may have grown up in tough situations like some of these kids, so we can connect with them. We understand that they may not have everything that a lot of other kids have, so we just want to bond with them and make them smile. We definitely feel like we are role models for these kids.”
Epworth Children’s Home serves children from broken homes, ages four through 18. Its goal is to nurture and care for the kids by providing education, counseling, medical care and spiritual enrichment.
“Epworth is a place for children who are disadvantaged and have often been abused and neglected,” Holler said. “We try to give them opportunities for success to help them break those cycles of abuse and neglect and give them good educational and mentally rewarding experiences. We want them to have a great opportunity in life.”
Having someone the children can look up to can certainly help Epworth achieve its goals. Over the last four years, children at Epworth have enjoyed a 100% high school graduation rate, and nearly 60% of those children made the academic honor roll at their respective schools.
Holler noted that even short interactions, such as Wednesday’s event, can have a lasting impact on the children.
“After meeting the players, the kids become instant fans,” Holler said. “If they get to go a game after an event like this, they’ll want everyone to know that they met that player. Special events like these help so much with self-esteem and self-worth. They come out of it feeling that ‘I am somebody,’ so it’s great.”
“This was really cool,” said one of the eleven-year-olds in attendance. “The Gamecocks are my favorite team.”
“8K in 8 Days” continues on Thursday as the Gamecocks will visit incoming freshmen at the University’s orientation session in the Russell House, followed by a visit to Fort Jackson for Operation Hoops for Troops’ Kids where the student-athletes will meet with children of active military members.
Season ticket prices for the upcoming season remain unchanged, with full season packages starting at $90. Like last season, fans can purchase lower level season tickets for $260 (Gamecock Club membership required for sections 104-106, 113-115), the Coke Family Sections are available for $600 (four tickets) and upper level tickets are available for $200 (no Gamecock Club membership required). End zone seating in the upper level is priced at four seats for $360. University Faculty/Staff members receive a 20% discount on lower level and upper level ticket prices.
Gamecock fans who have already renewed their season tickets for the 2015-16 campaign and those fans who purchase new or renew their season tickets during the "8K in 8 Days" campaign, are eligible to win a prize each day of the initiative. Prizes include a game-worn jersey, an autographed basketball, a $100 gift card to the GamecocksOnline.com online store, a game day VIP experience, and a trip with the team for an away game.
To place a deposit for season tickets, fans are encouraged to visit Gamecocksonline.com/Tickets, or call 1-800-4SC-FANS.
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