By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
DULUTH, Ga. – It may be the biggest week of the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball season to date as teams from across the league descend on Duluth, Ga., for the annual SEC Tournament, but student-athletes from each institution are taking time over the next few days to participate in “Time Out In The Community,” a community service initiative that will take place during the tournament.
The Time Out in the Community program, in its inaugural year, allows the men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes and coaches an opportunity to give back to the communities which host the SEC basketball championships.
Student-athletes and coaches will visit local children’s hospitals, elementary schools, and Boys and Girls Clubs. Each institution is assigned an outreach project based on seed order.
“We appreciate the student-athletes and coaches from the SEC taking time out of tournament week to reach out and give back to the community,” said SEC Assistant Commissioner Leslie Claybrook. “These are activities that they are already doing on our campuses and we’re excited to bring this initiative to our tournament site.”
The initiative got underway on Tuesday in the Duluth area as the teams from Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State visited a local elementary school to talk basketball and life lessons, and show off some of their moves. The remainder of the participating teams will take part in similar activities throughout the week.
“It’s just important to give back,” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said. “These young people need role models, and what better role models than student-athletes from the best conference in the country to provide that? It’s a great opportunity to have hands-on experience and for these kids to have the ability to reach out and touch these student-athletes. They’re real; it’s not just somebody that they see on TV.”
Not only is it beneficial for area children to interact with SEC women’s basketball players, according to Alabama head coach Wendell Hudson, it’s also an important lesson for the student-athletes of each of the league’s institutions.
“One of the things we are trying to do is not only play basketball, but to build a good relationship in the community,” Hudson said. “They need to understand that they are role models for these kids. Sometimes we take things for granted and get caught up in our own little world about playing, but this is great for the student-athletes to give back, to know that these kids are watching what you do and that you have a responsibility to do the right thing.”
This venture is being supported by the SEC’s corporate sponsors as a replacement for the conference’s longstanding Youth Clinics. Through “Time Out In The Community,” SEC teams now have a greater reach across the community at the tournament site.
“This venue is great,” Hudson said. “The kids get a chance to sit down and ask questions of these players. It has been a good situation for not only the school, but for our student-athletes to learn how to give back to the community.”
Mississippi State student-athlete Darriel Gaynor enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the elementary-aged kids, especially the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session.
“They ask a lot of questions,” Gaynor said. “They want to know how we practice and how much time we actually put into our sport. It’s fun to see them ask a lot of questions because I didn’t even think that these kids would want to know all this stuff about us.”
Schaefer, a long-time assistant to Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair prior to his first season at Mississippi State, took a leadership role in Tuesday’s activities, engaging the kids and student-athletes from each of the three schools much like he would his own team. He emphasized the importance of heart over size while teaching life lessons through basketball.
“You’ve got 100 kids and two rims and four balls, and I’ve been in that camp setting many times after 28 years, so I kind of know exactly what to do,” Schaefer said. “It’s a great opportunity for everybody. You’ve got to give all of the student-athletes from all the schools credit for their involvement with these young people. I think that speaks volumes to the character of the student-athlete in the Southeastern Conference.”
The SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday with 12th-seeded Mississippi State taking on 13th-seeded Alabama.