SMITHFIELD — The South Johnston baseball team traded their bats and gloves for shopping carts on a mid-December Saturday morning. And then they went out and hit a home run for some area kids.
For the eighth straight year, members of the team raised money and went on a shopping spree to buy toys to donate to the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program. More than 20 Trojans baseball players and head coach Keith Durham boarded an activity bus and headed to Wal-Mart for the annual event.
There were smiles all around as the players roamed the toy department in teams of two or three with $350 dollars per team to spend.
For Will Dupree, a senior third baseman, it was the third time he had filled a cart with gifts for children that he would not see open the presents on Christmas morning. That was part of the fun, he said, knowing that he would be making kids happy and imagining the look on their faces as they opened a present that he picked out.
I cant imagine waking up on Christmas morning and not having any presents to open, Dupree said. It feels good to be able to help out people who dont have the luxury of getting Christmas presents.
I think it is a good thing we are doing for the community. I look forward to it. It is fun to go around and pick out things that I would want when I was a little kid.
The Trojans sold tickets to a raffle for a $100 gift card, raising more than $3,400. They purchased 529 toys valued at $3,438.28 and gave the toys to the Marine Corps Reserve to distribute.
Bailey Coe raised the most money, selling $300 worth of raffle tickets, the third straight year he had led the way. Kevin Honeycutt sold 297 of the $1 tickets.
Over the eight years they have been participating in the Toys for Tots program, the Trojans have raised $25,119.28 and bought 3,562 toys.
Before the players began shopping, Durham did a little coaching. The most pressing need was for toys for children ages eight to 14, he told the players. Buys lots of toys, he instructed, not just a few expensive ones. And dont forget to buy toys for girls as well as boys.
Its always fun to watch high school boys buy baby dolls, Durham said. It has become fun for the guys. It has become a project that they have embraced and look forward to every year.
It just gives us an opportunity to try and help those less fortunate than us. It kind of helps keep the kids grounded, helps them realize that everybody may have everything on Christmas morning that they want.
For the players, it was just plain fun. They grabbed footballs, soccer balls, trucks, and toys that they knew they would have enjoyed getting when they were younger.
As the groups headed their separate ways, they picked up items, nodded their heads in agreement and quickly filled up their carts. And yes, there were plenty of girls toys in the mix.
The deeper meaning of what they were doing was not lost on the teens.
You put yourself in their position of wanting to get something for Christmas and not knowing if you are going to get it, senior pitcher/third baseman Mike Evans said. Being able to come out here and pick something out for these kids and know they going to get it and be happy makes you feel good. Its fun to see something and think, Man, that would be cool to get if I was 10 years old.
To know that you are making somebody else happy is really, really cool.
There were several freshmen in the group of players, and they didnt having any trouble getting into the spirit.
It makes you feel warm inside because you know you are making a difference, freshman catcher Nash Johnson said. It makes you feel more grateful for the things you have.
John Cuppett was in a trio of freshmen along with Johnson. He had the job of picking out the girls toys for his team, and he didnt mind that at all.
I think girls are cool, he said. Every time I pick out one of these toys, I imagine them opening them and knowing the expression on their face will just be amazing.
That act of selfless giving and bringing joy to an unknown child is something special about the program, Durham said.
One of the positives of it is you are doing something for somebody without recognition for yourself, said Durham, who is also the South Johnston athletic director. Its bringing joy to someone for the sake of bringing joy. If we can make Christmas morning better for even one child, then it is worth it.
Its a team effort. And in this outing, there are no losers. The kids who receive the toys benefit, to be sure, but so do the players in a way that they can never experience on the baseball diamond.
It does bring the team together, Durham said. As hard as we push them and as much as we focus on wins and losses and balls and strikes and things like that, this helps keep things in perspective a little bit too.
We want to win, there is no doubt. But there are bigger things in life and helping other people is one of those things.
After the shopping was done, Durham had the players gather for a group picture. Dressed in their green and white game jerseys, there were grins all around as they stood behind their shopping carts stuffed with toys the joy of giving registered on every face.
Its something that they talk about from year to year, Durham said. Even former players that I see ask me if we are still doing the toy drive. It really has become an integral part of our program and what we do.
It wouldnt be Christmas for South Johnston without doing Toys for Tots.