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Gamecock Games Creates Bonds with Student-Athletes and Local Children
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Gamecock Games Creates Bonds with Student-Athletes and Local Children

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

Instead of patting themselves on the back on National Student-Athlete Day last weekend, the South Carolina Gamecocks paid it forward. The Gamecocks were involved in several different philanthropic events last weekend in the Columbia community, including Relay for Life on campus, the Heart Walk for the American Heart Association, a Punt, Pass and Kick contest at the Long Family Football Operations Center, and a Fire Truck pull for Curing Kids Cancer.  The Gamecocks also paired up with the non-profit, The Therapy Place, for the Gamecock Games at the Miracle Field at Owens Field Park.

“We’ve been planning this for a year in advance,” Said South Carolina senior women’s soccer and track & field student-athlete Simone Wark. “We always enjoy National Student-Athlete Day and spending it here to sort of celebrate our successes, but we wanted to move in another direction that not only celebrates our status as student-athletes while also coming together and serving the community at the same time.”

“Our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) officers wanted to use National Student-Athlete Day as a day of service and a different sort of celebration,” said Student-Athlete Development Assistant Carmen Rollizo. “There was a lot of playing different games with kids, and we had pretty good representation from most our sports who weren’t competing this weekend.”

“We’re so blessed as student-athletes, but giving back is important because of the opportunities we have,” said junior volleyball student-athlete Courtney Koehler, who participated in the Gamecock Games. “At first the kids were shy, but the girl I was with had a little friend with her, so that helped her open up. She loved Disney princesses.”

“The best part was seeing the joy the kids brought us, in addition to the happiness we may have given them.”
– Courtney  Koehler

The Therapy Place coordinated with SAAC in getting local children with special needs to the Gamecock Games event at the Miracle Field and matched them up with one or more student-athletes.

“We serve around one hundred children from around the Midlands and beyond who have developmental delays,” said Dawn Darby, Executive Director of The Therapy Place.  “The main thing that they have in common is that they all have challenges and need some extra help.

“It was a perfect day for them to buddy-up with our children, and the parents had a nice respite area with food and games so they could just relax while their kids were being taken care of. It exceeded all of our expectations. The kids were thrilled! I had so many parents come up to us and thank us, too. I was so impressed with the student-athletes. They just showed them love.”

“We played with kids on the playground, and it was super-fun,” Koehler said. “Then we had them split up into four quadrants where we had different sports activities such as track, volleyball, throwing the football and basketball. The little girl I was with loved the golf activity. That was her favorite.”

While the youngsters enjoyed the time playing outside with the Gamecocks, the student-athletes benefited as well.

“The best part was seeing the joy the kids brought us, in addition to the happiness we may have given them,” Koehler said. “She had an impact on me. Just seeing the spark of joy she had; it was amazing!”

“The best part for me was seeing the smiles of the children,” Wark said. “I don’t think many of them were cognizant that we were South Carolina student-athletes. They were happy to be involved in the physical activities. At the end of the day, we handed them medals from our chests and put it on them. They ran to their parents and were celebrating.”

“Anytime we have a chance to work with children, especially special needs children, it allows us to take a step back and realize that what we do on a daily basis with athletics and academics is important, but being a student-athlete here exposes us to opportunities that we might not get elsewhere. Being able to make a child’s day and making them feel loved and successful through sports is special.”