The Illinois State women’s basketball team traveled to Grand Bahama Island last weekend to compete in the Junkanoo Jam and during their trip, interacted and played basketball with children at a local school.
Although the reason for traveling to the Bahamas was for the Junkanoo Jam, the majority of the team considers the highlight of the trip to be the time spent off of the court, at a local school.
The day before Thanksgiving, the team took some time off from the tournament to visit West End Primary School and interact with the children of this neglected area.
“We played with them and our coach talked to them about the importance of hard work and education,” Chloe Nelson said.
Players also led the children in relay races on the basketball courts, using the five new basketballs donated by the team.
“It was a really great experience and I think they impacted us as much as we impacted them,” Alexis Foley said.
Both Nelson and Foley agree that giving back to the community is an important part of being an athlete.
“It is so important to be able to see different parts of the world and to see how happy the kids were when we came,” Nelson said. “To see how much they looked up to us was an honor and very humbling.”
ISU head women’s basketball coach Barb Smith noted the importance of giving back during their trip, saying that even while volunteering, the team found a way to have fun and learn about the island in the midst of giving back to the children.
“I think [volunteering] gives us all a chance to see that we are very fortunate to have what we have. It makes you appreciate what you have and who you have in your life,” Smith said.
When asked if they would like to return to the West End Primary School during a later trip to the Bahamas, both Nelson and Foley responded with a resounding, “Definitely!”
After defeating the University of Florida Gators, 68-64, the Redbirds went on to face Pennsylvania State, losing 72-60 in the championship game.
“Our team battled the whole game and stuck with the game plan,” Smith said. “We didn’t execute well down the stretch, but we put ourselves in a position to win the game, and I am proud of that.”
Several Redbirds recorded career-high performances during the tournament, including Nelson and Foley. Nelson’s 26 points along with Foley’s 21 helped lead their team to victory over Florida. Foley continued her record performance, scoring 24 points against Pennsylvania.
“The whole team was excited to play, but whatever I could do to help us along was what I was going to do,” Foley said. “Everyone was really great about getting me the ball and I got some great assists.”
ISU returns to action for two games, starting with fellow Illinois team and rival, Northern Illinois on Thursday at Redbird Arena.