Jan. 5, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
An official visit to a university campus can make a big impression on young student-athletes who are trying to decide where they will bring their talents for the next four years. Coaches and current team members are normally busy showing off what the university has to offer, but instead of the usual red-carpet treatment, South Carolina softball's signing class rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty in assisting victims of the October floods on their official visit before signing with the Gamecocks earlier in the fall.
"It was really humbling," said Mackenzie Boesel, one of the three signees who participated in the service effort. "You hear about it on the news, and you see pictures, but it doesn't really set in until you're actually around the families and see the damage that was done in-person."
"It was a fantastic weekend," South Carolina softball coach Beverly Smith said. "I think they learned so much and grew from being able to come out and help the community. They saw the devastation, and being able to help was a great experience for our team and for the recruits as well. I think it really said a lot about the program."
Boesel and Alexis Lindsey made their way from California and Cayla Drotar came down from Hartsville, S.C., for the official visit weekend which was planned for the South Carolina/LSU football game on October 10. It's not uncommon for prospective student-athletes from other sports to take in a football game during their visit to get a feel for the excitement surrounding a campus on game day. The historic flooding forced the location of the game to be moved to Baton Rouge, but the official visit date did not change.
"There was some discussion as to whether or not we should cancel the visit," Smith said. "It still worked out that everyone could come, so in lieu of the football game, we went out and helped the community. They understood that we were under a boil-water advisory, and it was a little bit of a different experience."
That experience proved to be positive for each of the signees.
"When I first heard about us doing the flood relief, I was very excited," Drotar said. "I knew I'd have a chance to help individuals that got hit hard by this flood and have a chance to give back."
"Honestly, I thought it was going to be a great way to get to know the other girls on the team and get to know the community around the school," Lindsey said. "I had already been to a few football games because I've been recruited for so long now, but not going to the game was not the end of the world. I honestly enjoyed just being with the other girls and helping all of those people who needed it."
"I wasn't disappointed," Boesel said. "I was happy that we were going to be able to help. Once we started helping the families, I really loved it more."
Seeing the people I was going to be surrounded with when I go to college, and how everyone comes together in the time of need, it was really reassuring that I was going to be surrounded by good people.
The recruits bought their own rubber boots and gloves, put on dust masks, and went to work.
"It made a really good impression on me," Lindsey said. "I've helped out and volunteered before where I live, but nothing like that. It was really a great experience, and I'm so glad I was a part of it. It was so cool to walk down the street and see people who were so happy to see the softball team even after what happened. It made me feel like I was somewhere special."
"The impression it had on me was very heart-warming," Drotar said. "It was good to know, instead of having a football game to go to, that I can go help people that lost everything and help them try to find their stuff and help them, not only in a physical manner, but an emotional matter as well."
Despite the possibility of having the recruits being disappointed about not being able to attend the football game, Smith was not worried about losing their interest in the program.
"They had all been here before on unofficial visits, so they had been to a football game on their own," Smith said. "There is always a little pressure to make your official visit different. You try to think about what it going to be different about their official visit from their unofficial visit, and we had no problem achieving that.
"We were clear on the front end that this was going to be a different kind of visit, but that it was definitely safe for them to come," Smith said. "Our current players were already doing things for flood victims, and some were active through their church, so we connected with them. Our kids were in there knocking down walls and helping people clear their homes."
The work was not mandatory, and the parents of the signees were also there to witness the type of program their daughters are joining.
In addition to giving assistance to those in need, another positive by-product of the weekend was the opportunity for the current student-athletes and the signees to develop some comradery through teamwork.
"I feel like I bonded with the other girls I'm going to school with as part of this class," Boesel said. "I got to know a lot of the (current) players well by working and helping out. I feel like it really bonded us because we were all working together. I love helping the community out. Seeing the people I was going to be surrounded with when I go to college, and how everyone comes together in the time of need, it was really reassuring that I was going to be surrounded by good people."
"The experience helped me become closer to my teammates," Drotar said. "It also made me realize that if I need a helping hand, I'll always have them to fall back on."
Now that they've see what the University of South Carolina and the softball program are all about off the field, the three recruits look forward to getting their careers on the field started next year.
"I'm looking forward to softball and the family atmosphere they provide there," Boesel said.
"I'm looking forward to being part of the team and being around our coaches," Lindsey said. "They all show that they care about you, and that makes you feel really good. That makes you want to make an impact."
"I'm looking forward to playing D1 softball,"Drotar said. "I can't wait to build those relationships with my coaches and teammates. Last but not least, I can't wait to make my impressions on the University of South Carolina."
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