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#STINGDAILY: `Tis The Season

Dec. 16, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

– The phrase, “It’s the thought that counts” is often used rather cynically during the holidays to feign gratitude.

Such is not the case around Georgia Tech softball. Not only does the thought count, but it is followed up by a genuine and sincere action.

Coach Shelly Hoerner has made no secret of how important she thinks giving back to the community is, especially around the holidays.

The team firmly shares its coach’s commitment and, on Sunday, followed through, donating toys and Christmas presents as part of the Salvation Army’s drive for a needy family’s children.

“Our team got to sponsor a 10-year-old boy and a 16-month-old boy,” said senior Alysha Rudnik. “We all pitched in money and got them the gifts that were on their Christmas list. We all pitched in, the team and the coaches.”

Making the commitment was easy while the cause provided some perspective.

“It makes you take a step back and kind of look at what you’re doing for others and how much you’re really giving,” said senior Ashley Thomas. “The fact that the whole softball team is giving to these families and the Salvation Army, it’s a great thing to do. I think it’s great for the softball team to get together and all find joy in giving to others.”

Rudnik, who did the shopping, along with fellow senior Hayley Downs and sophomore Maddie Lionberger, admitted finding the right things was a little tricky at first.

“My youngest sister is 14. So it was kind of like, `Okay, if I was a little boy…’ I was just trying to think about it that way,” she said. “We got them Lego®s. We got clothes, too, some shoes and things like that. They had a list, so we just went down the list. We got clothes and things that they needed, then we got the toys.

“We had some fun going shopping and kind of testing out, playing around with stuff,” she added. “We were thinking `If we thought this toy was fun then we were pretty sure he will.’ The other boy was 16 months old, so we that was a little bit easier because you had to have specific toys for that age.”

The team didn’t get to meet the recipients of their gifts, but that was something they could live with.

In this case, it really was the thought that counted.

“We didn’t actually get to see them, so that was kind of a bummer, but it’ll be cool for them that it’s going to them and that they’ll get some good stuff for Christmas,” said Rudnik. “It’s not about who they’re getting the gift from. I’m just glad they get the gifts and they’re happy about it. It’s definitely something I’ve always had. I’ve never gone without any needs. So I don’t know what it’s like for them. But I hope that it means something to them.”

Thomas, who already had left Atlanta to go home for the holidays, knows of the joy of giving, as her family has made a ritual of giving out food baskets to five families during the holidays.

“I think getting to see the families’ faces and seeing the kids’ faces light up when you give them gifts is definitely a plus but ultimately, the blessing or the thing that I find makes me take a step back is just giving in general,” she said. “Knowing that some family is going to get what you gave them and that some family is going to be thankful for it that makes me thankful for what I have. I think just the general idea has the same impact as seeing their faces.”

The act of giving to others is something that has become as much a part of Coach Hoerner’s team as working out in the weight room or taking extra swings or doing extra throwing.

Rudnik pointed out that Hoerner’s enthusiasm has made taking part in events like Sunday’s can be as much fun and as rewarding for the team as playing the game they love.

“Coach Hoerner makes it that it’s not like, `Okay, this is what we’re going to do,’ but It’s an exciting thing we get to do and we get to be a part of,” she said. “She knows that school and sports are important. But these are the kinds of things where we’ve got to be a little bit more creative and show our personalities more just by getting to do these things. It’s been fun.”

There’s also a life lesson in it for the team.

“It definitely bonds us in a way,” said Thomas. “As a team, in that moment, we were all thankful for what we have. We’re enjoying giving back. We’re all on the same page, in a way, and like softball, this whole year we all want to play with pride and we all want to be thankful for the opportunity that we have during the season. It’s good to see everybody, all 18 girls, get the same enjoyment out of this. So I think it does show that you have the heart that our whole team has.”

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