Lions lend paws in community service projects

Walking into the Piano Row Gymnasium, you might see one of the basketball teams preparing for an upcoming game. You might see captains firing up teammates or coaches drawing up plays, but what you won’t see are the hours both teams have spent off the court helping around the community. The teams have done everything from volunteering at the Brian Honan 5K run in Allston that took place on Sept. 5, to setting up food and clothing drives to even reading to kids at a local elementary school.

“Anytime you’re doing stuff for other people it can only help your team, because to me, that’s a team builder,” said Hank Smith, head coach of the Emerson men’s basketball team for the past 15 years.

Now that the season has started, however, the team’s time will be allocated mostly to the hardwood and the available free time will be minimal at best. The two-time Great Northeast Athletic Conference Coach of the Year only wishes there were more hours in the day to help out.

“You’d like to [do more],” he said. “There are some limits, we’d like to do more but there are some time restraints to everything.”

Senior Lauren Vassallo said the women’s basketball team is trying to plan a second charity event. However, the team has had less time to do so since the basketball season began. The GNAC Student Athletic Advisory Committee is planning a canned food drive and the team is trying its best to get Emerson involved in the conference-wide program. Vassallo, who is a captain and plays forward for the team, said she is ready and eager to participate since seeing the positive effects of all the charity work the team has done and hopes that it will carry over into the season.

“It really does open up your eyes to see what people don’t have compared to what you have,” the print journalism major said. “As a team, it’s all about team chemistry. You guys go out together as a team and do this community service and you feel good about yourself, you’re doing something good, you get to know your teammates and you get to know other people.”

The basketball teams aren’t the only squads involved in community service. The men’s and women’s soccer teams recently worked with children in Boston’s South End Soccer program at The Field at Rotch Playground, and each of the other Emerson teams have lent their support to the community, too.

Even though Emerson teams have been required to do two charity events in the past, this is the first year the administration has put such a strong emphasis on it, Vassallo said. The charity work has helped bring teammates closer together, she said, and the chemistry on the court is now better than ever.

“I think when you come together and do things a lot as a team it definitely does help you win games,” Vassallo said. “I know when I’m dribbling baseline someone’s going to be in the corner so I can pass it to them and that’s just stuff you can do on and off the court to get to know each other.”

Stan Nance, Emerson’s assistant athletic director and recruiting coordinator, said volunteering around the city is a big part of the Emerson community. Athletes have been volunteering since before he arrived six years ago, but the administration has tried to put more of a focus on it, emphasizing the importance of helping out around Boston since he began. The athletic teams have done everything from clinics for children to helping out at Race for the Cure (which benefits breast cancer) to food drives. Some teams have even gone as far as joining forces with local colleges in the area to help clean up the Charles River, Nance said.

“[It’s important] to give back to the community; it’s a privilege to play athletics, it’s not a right,” Nance said. “You’re one of the fortunate ones that go to college and play a sport, so we think as an administration it’s important that you give back to the community that you’re in.”