Enterprise staff writer
In the middle of fall workouts and while getting prepared for the 2010-11 school year, which started on Thursday, the UC Davis menÕs basketball team took some time over the past two weeks to do some community service.
The 12 members of the team and the coaching staff helped build a home for a day with Habitat for Humanity on Sept. 15, then went to the Shriners Hospital in Sacramento a week later and spent a couple of hours playing with the kids.
ÒI feel very strongly that to have a fulfilling life, you have to have a strong servitude component to it,Ó said UCD head coach Gary Stewart. ÒIf (the players) are able to pick out something that theyÕre passionate about and continue to serve, that would be the ultimate goal. ItÕs important that they broaden their horizons and reach out in some meaningful way.Ó
The Aggies have been going to the Shriners Hospital around this time for a number of years. This year, the team was there for nearly two hours and played pool, cards, air hockey and video games with the kids in the hospital.
One of the most popular games was Just Dance on the Nintendo Wii. The players filtered in and out, nearly all of them taking a turn, before all 12 took part in a team dance toward the end of the evening. All of the coaches, Stewart included, also gave the game a shot.
At the end, a raffle was held with six prizes for the kids, which included a pair of basketballs autographed by the entire team and coaching staff. After the players pulled the names of the winners for the raffle, they took team pictures with a lot of the kids.
Senior guard Todd Lowenthal is no stranger to the Shriners visits, having come with the team on a couple occasions in the past. He said he likes coming back.
ÒI enjoy coming out here to see the smile on the kidsÕ faces,Ó Lowenthal said. ÒIt means a lot to them and it means a lot to us also. TheyÕre in a difficult situation so anything we can do to help them out makes us happy. I was glad to come back here.Ó
Tyler Les, a true freshman guard, has done some community service in the past but had never experienced Shriners before.
ÒIt was great, getting to interact with the kids and was a lot of fun,Ó Les said. ÒIt didnÕt feel like we were doing anybody any favors but were just here to have a good time and make sure the kids had a good time.Ó
UCD had hoped to work with Habitat for Humanity before but could never get anything worked out. NCAA rules stipulate that teams can volunteer as a group only during times when theyÕre able to practice together.
With Habitat, the Aggies were in Woodland from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. working on a house. The players werenÕt sure exactly what they were going to be doing there, but ended up being very involved in the construction of the house.
The players and coaches mainly worked in the rafters of the house and up on the roof, doing whatever the foreman told them to do, which included moving part of the houseÕs frame and hammering beams into place.
ÒIÕve never experienced something like that, so to actually help build a house was interesting,Ó Lowenthal said. ÒIÕve never done construction Ñ it was a first time for that Ñ but I enjoyed it. I have a lot more respect for construction workers after spending one day out there.Ó
While the house is still in its early stages and its completion depends on the number of volunteers Habitat can get each day, the Aggies received more immediate reactions at Shriners.
ÒYou see this kidÕs smile,Ó Stewart asked while pointing to one of the kids playing a game. ÒThatÕs the feedback.Ó
Notes: Stewart said they usually check in on the kids to see how theyÕre doing and sometimes invite them to come to UCD games. … In the past, the Aggies have helped out the local police department with an active shooter on campus drill as well as an ÒaccidentÓ at the Farmers Market. UCD also has participated with the Special Olympics, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, fundraisers for Hurricane Katrina and Coaches vs. Cancer. … In August, UCD head football coach Bob Biggs brought his entire team to Shriners and handed out shirts and autographed footballs to the children. Biggs said about the visits, which the team has done for years, ÒSometimes you forget when youÕre a college athlete how much of an impact you can have on other people. They love when our guys come over and interact with them, play games with them.Ó … Several other Aggie teams also visit the Shriners throughout the year.
Ñ Reach Conor Tekautz at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story or check out The Enterprise sports blog at www.davisenterprise.com