During their off seasons, both basketball teams have been focusing not only on get into shaping for games, but also on giving back to the community that supports them.
In recent months, men’s basketball has volunteered with the Edwardsville Children’s Museum, served free meals at a local church, spoken about leadership at a local middle school, visited students of all ages at St. Boniface Parish School in Edwardsville and attended an Alzheimer's Walk, according to Head Coach Brian Barone.
Barone said the team does not typically post about the volunteer work they do because that is not the main intention behind them volunteering.
“We don’t always promote all of that stuff because it’s not necessarily just trying to get us out there to say, ‘Hey, look what we did,’” Barone said. “It’s really something that’s bettering all sides of this kind of agreement. And we’re able to go out there kind of behind the scenes sometimes and just become better people.”
However, Barone said posting about an event the team volunteers at can be beneficial in some cases to raise awareness for a cause.
“Then there’s times like the Alzheimer’s Walk where you want to raise awareness,” Barone said. “We were a part of this, and anything that’s retweeted or put out there, it’s bringing more awareness to the Alzheimer's Association.”
Junior guard Zeke Moore said one of his favorite volunteer projects was when he, Barone and freshman forward Lamar Wright spoke to middle schoolers about the value of leadership skills.
“[We] went to Liberty Middle School and talked to seventh and eighth graders about leadership and those virtue qualities people should have in life and what it means to be a leader,” Moore said. “I think those are qualities that we could see more of in the world.”
Moore also said he feels it is the team’s responsibility to give back and he sees other benefits of doing volunteer work beyond just supporting a good cause.
“Being a student-athlete here, representing Edwardsville, it’s always important to give back to the community because people look up to us, just like we look up to people,” Moore said. “It’s always nice to make sure people understand that we’re just normal kids like anyone else.”
Barone agreed that doing volunteer work is beneficial for the team as well as the organizations they are serving.
“As much as it’s a service to whatever event we’re helping out with, it probably does more for our young men and our team,” Barone said. “It puts in perspective what it’s like to be a team for a cause bigger than yourself.”
The team plans to return to schools they’ve previously visited, visit the Children’s Hospital in St. Louis and open more of their practices to groups of young boys and girls, according to Barone. Even so, he said he wishes they could do more.
“Unfortunately, you can’t do them all because we’re also practicing and our guys are going to school, but we want to be there if the time permits or make the time sometimes,” Barone said. “But also, logistically if it works within our travel schedule and things like that — we’re always all ears to help.”
Women’s basketball has also been doing a lot of volunteer work during their off season, especially with St. Mary’s School in Edwardsville. Players read to students and volunteer at their annual fair, according to junior guard/forward Zaria Whitlock.
The team also volunteered at a summer camp in St. Louis for at-risk youths, where they taught the kids how to exercise properly and the importance of school. They also served free meals to families in Collinsville, Illinois, according to junior guard Christen King.
King said the summer camp stood out to her as impactful because she was able to form deep bonds with the children over a long period of time.
“I think [the St. Louis camp] affected me the most because it was such a close interaction with the kids, and of course, it was probably one of the longest we’ve ever done,” King said. “It was a daily interaction with the same children and getting to know them and their personalities and where they came from. So, I think that one affected me the most because I grew a connection with the people I was trying to help.”
Whitlock said she also found the St. Louis camp to be one of the most impactful volunteer experiences she’s had with the team, as it provided the children with accessible role models who looked like them.
“Going into St. Louis, we obviously got to see African American kids and kids of color, who I feel like generally are the most underprivileged and kind of get pushed to the side because what they need is not valued as much,” Whitlock said. “So, it was cool for us to go down there and actually have kids who could see people who look like them in a successful position.”
King, like Barone and Moore, said that doing volunteer work together also benefits the team as a whole and brings them closer together.
“[Volunteering as a team] is another bonding experience,” King said. “Going out and helping the community helps you to realize what you have, but it also helps in understanding your teammates and understanding how much they also care and that we’re all in it for one goal. And at the end of the day, we are basketball players, but we also care about other people.”
To keep up with both teams, follow them on Twitter @SIUEMBB and @SIUECougarsWB.