Community Service an Integral Part of Illini Softball

Freshman Nicole Tobon kicks a ball around with a Yankee Ridge student.
Freshman Nicole Tobon kicks a ball around with a Yankee Ridge student.

Nov. 6, 2012

Urbana, Ill. – The Illinois softball team has been very active in the community this fall, participating in several different service projects around Champaign-Urbana. Every Monday afternoon, the team conducts personal visits to local children, alternating between the pediatric floor of Carle Hospital and the Yankee Ridge Elementary After School Program. Additionally, the team participated in the “Step Out to Fight Diabetes” walk and hosted a clinic with the Tom Jones Challenger League this past Saturday.

"During the recruiting process we talk about building leaders and helping young women grow in all aspects of their lives,” said Head Coach Terri Sullivan. “I feel community outreach is a vital learning experience for our players and a chance to make a positive impact on someone else's life. I learned this by watching my dad (Loyola-Chicago Men’s Basketball Coach Gene Sullivan) take his players to speak to school children, visit sick kids in hospitals, and talk to military veterans. I'm very proud of our program and I see so many of our softball alumni continue to be leaders in their communities all across the country.”

Every other Monday, the Illini visit children at Carle Hospital, in hopes of brightening their days.

“We went to the pediatrics floor at Carle Hospital to interact with the patients that were sick, and had a very memorable time,” said sophomore outfielder Brittany Sanchez. “They were very happy to see people who wanted to play with them, and it was an amazing feeling to see how we could impact these kids. There was a wide variety of ages from age one all the way to 14. We will continue to go back every other Monday and I look forward to meeting new patients.”

On the alternate Mondays, the softball team heads to Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana to volunteer at its after school program.

“We are trying to make a difference in the community,” said junior catcher Jenna Mychko. “At Yankee Ridge, we are helping kids with their homework as well as playing games with them outside and in the gym. We are trying to be good role models by stressing the importance of doing well in school as well as getting plenty of physical activity and still having fun!

“The team always has a great time when we go over there. We have developed great relationships with these kids, and because of that, they invited us to Family Fun Night so we could meet their parents and tell them all about the fun activities we do after school.”

In addition to the weekly visits, the team took part in two big annual events this fall, participating in the Step Out to Fight Diabetes walk at Hessel Park on Oct. 17 and hosting a softball clinic on Nov. 3 with the Tom Jones Challenger League.

“The whole team had a great experience attending the Diabetes Walk,” said senior pitcher Pepper Gay. “Being a person with Type 1 Diabetes, I know it can be difficult managing it.  I think it was great to show support to our community and demonstrate that staying active and exercising are great for one’s health!”

In the most recent event this past Saturday, the Illini hosted a softball clinic with the Tom Jones Challenger League, which provides a safe and fun environment for children with varying degrees of physical or mental challenges to be active and participate in group athletic activities.

“The Challenger League clinic that we put on this past Saturday was a fantastic experience,“ said freshman Katie Repole. “After the clinic was done, the team was talking with Coach Sullivan, and one of our players said, ‘I think we had more fun than the kids,’ and she couldn't be more correct. A bunch of the kids from the league came to our games this fall, so it was really nice to get to know them on a personal level, and share the great game of softball with them. My favorite part of the clinic was helping the kids try on the Illini jersey.”

While Illinois’ competition season does not begin until February, the Illini are always part of a team, year-round. It is important to the team to give back to the community that supports them, spending what free time they have when not in class or on the field helping out those who need it most.

“This is a cornerstone of Illinois Softball that our players really embrace,” said Coach Sullivan. “Even if we didn't have a formal community outreach program, I know they would do it on their own. Our team loves meeting new people and the various groups we visit love seeing us! In coach-speak, it's the ultimate win- win!"