CHARLOTTESVILLE — Inscribed on the glass partition wall in front of the Eastern Hancock High School athletics office, the Royals’ initiative is clearly defined.
There, in bold white lettering, the school’s three primary principles and shared philosophy for education-based athletics are prominently displayed as a unified vision with a singular purpose.
Character. Competitive Greatness. Leadership That Serves.
“A couple of years ago, the (IHSAA) started a sportsmanship program that was a good program, but we felt we wanted to specialize it more with our viewpoints and make it unique to us,” Eastern Hancock athletics director Aaron Spaulding remarked on the message, which is also exhibited inside the school’s gymnasium.
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“We decided to come up with an all-encompassing new vision statement this year. We wanted to narrow it down to what we felt was our true mission in what we are trying to accomplish with athletics.”
More than words, the Royals have embraced all six since the initiative was initially launched and have put them into action in their local community.
Each sports season, student-athletes from the junior high to the high school have committed their time to service, volunteering wherever they can.
On Tuesday, “Leadership That Serves” called both the girls and boys basketball players and wrestlers to the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds where they spent a combined six hours with their coaches lending a helping hand.
The volunteers arranged tables and chairs, unloaded supply trucks and carefully unpacked donated toys and clothing for those less fortunate in preparation for the third-annual Carpentershouse Global and Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen Christmas Eve event.
“I’ve heard they serve up to 2,000 people. That’s quite an undertaking, so we went there to assist,” Spaulding said. “It’s not mandatory, but I would say we had nearly 90 percent of our student-athletes participate. I think anytime you do something like that, it helps you realize how lucky you are to have the opportunities you do have. It’s been greatly positive.”
The Christmas Eve event was first conducted at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen on Main Street in Greenfield with more than 1,400 people attending. Moved to the fairgrounds to accommodate even more local residents in need, fashioning the exhibit hall and neighboring building requires substantial manpower.
Through the morning and early afternoon, the basketball players aided in organizing toy donations, which will be made readily available to parents on Christmas Eve, so they can have them wrapped in time to surprise their children with a special gift under the tree.
Along with the wrestlers, the basketball players also sorted clothing that will be provided to those adults and kids present Christmas Eve in addition to a hot meal and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“This is really important. So much is given to us, it’s only right to give back,” Eastern Hancock wrestling coach Keith Oliver said. “We preach to them all the time, one day they’re going to graduate and when they come back, your success story won’t be what they did in high school but what you’ve become. Whatever it is, it’s important to make the community better through action.”
While showing their “Character” during the season of giving, Eastern Hancock athletes have been active since the fall sports season.
The football, cross country and volleyball players spent several hours at Nameless Creek Youth Camp where they did everything from painting to landscaping and maintenance.
The middle-school athletes directed their efforts around the school where they picked up after home football games, washed buses and cleaned the grounds.
“This is just part of our new vision statement this year,” Spaulding said. “Our seventh- and eighth-grade girls basketball teams already helped with the (Hancock County) Food Pantry this month, and we have some other teams that will help later. That’s what it’s all about.
“A lot of times, I think sometimes priorities get a little mixed up in today’s education-based athletics, so we find it’s really vital for us to reinforce what we feel is important.”
The example begins from the top, Spaulding said.
Every month the school’s coaches meet for a book club where they read a chapter of an inspirational book “that focuses on teaching kids these type of principles” beyond the wins and losses, so they can succeed throughout life.
“For the ‘Character’ part, every month we have an all-athlete meeting where we talk about different things, and we’ve had some special speakers come in to talk to our kids,” Spaulding said. “The ‘Competitive Greatness’ aspect is where we want our kids to obviously be the best they can be individually and collectively as teams.”
Opportunities such as Tuesday’s have an effect in all three phases.
“It makes me feel good to have the opportunity to give back and help,” Eastern Hancock junior wrestler Gabe Blake said. “Plus, I get to spend time with my team. It brings us together more because we’re helping a good cause and coming together to do something helpful.
“Things like this is a great reflection of our school, how we think, how we do things. It shows our morals.”