Holy Family girls basketball team finds focus off the court

| Jennifer Janikula for The Catholic Spirit | March 1, 2012 | 0 Comments

Cailtin Hartman, left, and Anne Velazquez, basketball players at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria collect canned food after practice. Jim Bovin for the Catholic Spirit

In high school sports, the basketball season stretches from mid-November through “March Madness” — up to 18 weeks and 26 games. It challenges teams to stay focused, and a successful coach must develop a strategy to keep her team fresh and motivated to compete.

Coach Jenny Swartout has a unique approach for keeping players focused — service.

In her first year as head coach of the girls varsity basketball team at Holy Family Cath­olic High School in Victoria, Swartout manages the pressure of the long season with team service projects.

“These girls work hard in the classroom and on the court,” Swartout said. “The service projects help them focus on the greater good by being charitable. They remember how fortunate they are to play basketball together — to have shoes, uniforms and transportation.”

This season, the team has raised $1,900 for the American Cancer Society, purchased Christmas gifts for 23 children through the Community Action Partnership Agency, hosted a basketball booth at the St. Victoria’s festival and collected food for the Chaska Food Shelf.

“The service projects remind us that there is more in life than basketball,” said junior point guard Aly Anton. “It’s a nice break from our routine and we are more focused the next time we come in the gym.”

Building relationships

The service projects also build relationships between the players and their families.

During Advent, Swartout cut practice short and sent the players out to purchase gifts for families in need.

Senior center Katharine Leary remembered running around the store with her teammates, “I really enjoyed it. Helping others made my Christmas better.”

“Some teams do sleep-overs for team bonding, we build our team and do good for the community,” added Anton.

The fundraiser for the American Cancer Society brought parents together, too.

“My mom is a breast cancer survivor,” said junior post Hannah Meidl.  “She organized the cancer awareness event. [Senior] Megan McCabe’s mom volunteered to help and now they are friends.”

Cancer has affected the Leary family as well. “My dad is a prostate cancer survivor,” Leary said.

Annie Henrickson who attended the event on behalf of the American Cancer Society, described the players: “They are amazing young women. They are so passionate and spirited.”

“Coach Swartout is building strong women on and beyond the court,” said Kathleen Brown, president and principal of Holy Family. “Bonding with others through service is a habit we hope to instill.”

The players see the connection between sports and service. “Basketball has become more. It’s not just physical — it’s spiritual, too,” Leary said. Meidl added, “We grow in faith while playing a sport we love.”

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