Dec. 24, 2012
CHICAGO – The women’s basketball players at DePaul decided to play Santa Claus this Christmas and bring a little joy to someone else’s world.
The student-athletes pooled their resources and got together with assistant coach Bart Brooks and his fiancée Charlene Smith to help a family who would not be opening presents on Dec. 25th.
Smith is a former Blue Demon who played for coach Doug Bruno from 2002-05 and is now a social worker who connected the basketball team with a Rogers Park family.
“Our team enjoys doing stuff like this throughout the year,” said sophomore guard Megan Rogowski whose family lives in northwest suburban Prospect Heights. “Bart and Charlene came up with the idea of getting gifts for a family who would not be receiving any on Christmas.
“I thought it was a great idea. There are people who are not as fortunate as us. We were able to help them out and have a special Christmas.”
Seniors Anna Martin and Katherine Harry organized the team into groups and led them on a team shopping outing. Each group purchased gifts for one of the three children in the family.
“Our group bought the gifts for the eight-year-old girl,” Rogowski said. “We got her a nice dress, a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt---everyday clothes.”
Chanise Jenkins was part of a team that shopped for a girl in middle school.
“We picked out a really nice dress, a nice T-shirt to wear underneath her cardigan which is fashionable now and a nice pair of pants,” said Jenkins, a freshman guard whose family lives in the city. “For the girl oldest girl, they bought her a leather jacket. The coaches bought a stroller for the mom.
“It was different buying gifts for someone who needs stuff and isn’t going to get anything they want for Christmas. You’re making their dreams come true, and it’s great to be a part of that.”
It was quite a scene as the Blue Demons did their own gift-wrapping.
“When we were all wrapping, Alex (Alexa Gallagher) was the best,” Jenkins said. “She was measuring and cutting the wrapping paper, putting bows and tags and stuff on the presents. She could do it all.”
Rogowski smiled at the memory of that gathering.
“Kat (Katherine Harry) and Anna (Anna Martin) weren’t the best wrappers but everyone else pitched in and helped out,” Rogowski said. “That’s what friends are for---helping each other out.”
DePaul had a Dec. 17 practice at Loyola---the day before the Blue Demons would knock off their North Side rival at the Gentile Center. Smith brought the family by after practice.
“When we gave them the gifts, they were beyond thankful,” Rogowski said. “It was really heartwarming. The mom was speechless and she kept getting tears in her eyes. It was cool to see how much this meant to her and her family.
“The kids all had big smiles and were really happy and excited.”
Jenkins nodded her head.
“I think they were surprised by how much they got,” Jenkins said. “It was a great experience. It was kind of hard because you don’t know what they like. You’re hoping they like the things we picked out.”
The Blue Demon coach really liked what his players did.
“Our players wanted to do something special for Christmas, and this was their idea,” said Bruno who lives his life passionately caring for the welfare of others. “Charlene was the conduit between a great idea and an action plan. Charlene, Bart and assistant coach Jill Pizzotti are always trying to help a family.
“All the players put their money together and went shopping as a team. Charlene knew of a family with three kids and a single-parent mom expecting her fourth child. She identified the family’s needs.”
And what does this say about his program?
“It’s a statement about what great people we have playing for us at DePaul,” Bruno said. “Charlene has dedicated her life to social work. Her cousin---former Blue Demon Khara Smith---is doing the same. Our players had an understanding to carry this out themselves.
“It’s what you have to do. This is what DePaul is all about. It’s what St. Vincent de Paul is all about. I like to think it’s what women’s basketball is about all year long and not just at Christmas time.”
It’s what Doug Bruno is all about 12 months a year. He emphasizes the concept of sharing---on and off the court.
“All athletes have to see the bigger picture,” Bruno said. “Athletics is a great tool to teach teamwork, competitiveness and goal-setting.
“Ultimate teams share with each other. Ultimate athletes recognize their gifts and share outside their ego that makes them great. You need a strong ego to be a great player. But it can’t be all about you. That’s the paradox of team sports.
“Each time a basketball player makes a good pass on the court, you are executing a service project for your teammates.”
His players now realize there can be more to the holidays than Frosty, Rudolph and Jingle Bells.
“This helps us realize how lucky we are,” Rogowski said. “It makes me thankful for my family and how blessed I am. It shows the significance of sharing and how grateful people are.”
And what might Santa be bringing for good, little student-athletes like Megan and Chanise?
“I asked for black boots---mid-calf---and a new wallet,” Rogowski said with a laugh. “And one other thing---a Keurig Coffee Brewer. That would be great to have in my room.”
“I didn’t ask for anything for Christmas,” Jenkins said. “I have a younger sister, and it’s more important to focus on her.”