Santa Claus wore a black windbreaker on Tuesday. His elves were much taller, and his sleigh had been replaced by a black, stretch Humvee limosuine.
This was Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie and his players, strolling through the aisles of a Toys-R-Us store with children from local Boys and Girls Clubs picking out their own Christmas gifts.
The Red Raiders will wrap up their “12 Days of Christmas” charity drive today with a trip to the Lubbock Police Department, and over the course of the past two weeks, the team has made visits to local hospitals, food banks and other charitable organizations, an effort, Gillispie said earlier this month, for his team to become “a viable part of the community.”
Gillispie, though, wanted to do more.
He contacted the Boys and Girls Club with the aim of creating a special day for children in the organization. Tuesday’s trip with children from the Optimist branch of the organization, was the fourth such event Gillispie personally funded, which included a ride in the limo, the selection of a handful of toys — the children chose everything from iPods to dollhouses — and a trip to McDonald’s. All three branches of the Lubbock Boys and Girls Club and the one located in Shallowater participated over the last week.
Jon Ward, director of the Optimist branch, said Gillispie’s plan was different than anything the organization had been involved with before.
“We take kids to Kohls every year, something that our organization does,” he said, “but what (Gillispie) is doing is very unique, and it’s a very huge-hearted gift. When he brought this idea to us, we were very excited.”
Tech’s players, too, said the past two weeks of interacting with and giving back to the community has been eye-opening, an experience that has helped the team bond further.
“It has made us realize how blessed and fortunate we are,” said junior Ty Nurse, who was among the players helping kids pick out Christmas gifts on Tuesday. “Coach Gillispie has taught us that it’s better to give back than receive, so we’ve definitely been practicing that.
“It helps to be with our teammates off the court, get to know them better with activities like this, not just being on the basketball court together but out in the community, as well.”
The team’s cohesion will be tested on Thursday, as hits the road for a tough test against Oral Roberts. Big 12 Conference play arrives in about two weeks, when Tech’s progress will be quickly measured.
On Tuesday, though, the team put basketball aside, if only for a few brief moments.
As a horde of smiling kids funneled back toward the humvee for a ride home, Gillispie said the reason for his efforts were simple.
“These are great kids and they’re having a lot of fun,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”
To comment on this story: