While sheer athletic ability is obviously vital to the achievements of student athletes, character is an often overlooked trait.
As successful as the South Brunswick High School baseball team has been on the diamond, the squad's high character off the field has driven them to get involved in parts of the state still suffering in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Last Sunday, a group of players, coaches and parents headed down to Manasquan to aid storm victims still undergoing power outages and suffering from the loss of their homes.
"I've lived down there over the summer since 2006," said SBHS assistant coach C.J. Hendricks. "I know people down there who are having a really tough time. I've been down three or four times to volunteer, so I tried to organize a group to come down for relief efforts."
Hendricks worked with South Brunswick's Diamond Club President Mary Grace Rogers, while coordinating with Manasquan's First Presbyterian Church. Only expecting a handful of volunteers to be available since it was a holiday weekend, Hendricks was struck by the response the effort received, as about 20 players and parents were willing to head down and aid the storm-ravaged area.
"The kids had a great experience going down there and this helped them think beyond themselves," he said. "People there were on the brink of tears thanking us for the job we did. It was great for our program to do this as a group. It's one thing to do this individually, but to say we did this as a program speaks a lot about the young men we have as student athletes at South Brunswick High School."
The volunteers split into three groups and spent several hours performing various tasks for people whose homes were destroyed. The volunteers removed sand and destroyed furniture from homes, took down drywall, and ripped up damaged floors.
"We complain and get frustrated because we didn't have electricity, but what I kept saying to these kids was imagine waking up and your home wasn't there anymore," Hendricks said. "We stress the importance of family and that it comes before anything. The things we need to appreciate in life are not possessions or material things, it's about who you have around you to support you."
Hendricks said the group benefitted greatly by expereincing the devastation of the storm at the shore firsthand, instead of through news reports or images on TV.
"It's one thing for something like this to happen in our state, but it's another for it to happen a half hour away. People I've known since 2006 are without homes. Businesses I used to go to aren't sure if they'll be able to ever open up again," Hendricks said. "I think it really hit home and gave the guys a great feeling because it's different than donating money when you go down there and someone hands you a shovel. It's different when you shake hands with the victims you're helping and just talk to them. A lot of the healing that helps is more than just moving things, because a lot of them haven't seen many people come down there and they just want to talk to people and feel normal again."
For the kids on the team, the volunteer work opened their eyes to the plight Sandy victims are dealing with on a daily basis after their lives were thrown into chaos.
"It was definitely a moving experience and it felt good to help out," said senior T.J. Perkowski. "To be able to go to the beachfront and see the devastation there, and to see the joy of the people when we came to help them made our day. It's tough for all of those people to have to deal with what they're going through, so to be able to help them and to see them smile was amazing."
Hendricks added that the team isn't done volunteering at the shore and is planning on future relief efforts after so many kids wanted to get involved. He noted that the work will help pay dividends for the students long after they leave SBHS, as they learn about thinking beyond themselves to help those in need.
"In South Brunswick, our kids and players embody what it means to be part of a community and they represent South Brunswick well, with respect and class," he said. "Above any championships we've won, this was the most proud moment I've had as a coach, to have these kids come down and volunteer under these circumstances. This is a good look at what's to come from South Brunswick's student athletes."
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