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Montreat College athletes offer a helping hand on Cavalier Care Day
On Dec. 5, Montreat College sophomore Terrell Sheffey was in Brevard, where the Cavaliers guard helped his team beat the Tornados for the first time in 11 years.
Less than 24 hours later he was one of hundreds Montreat College student-athletes lending his services in the community for the first annual Cavalier Care Day.
From about 3-7 p.m., a period in which student-athletes would normally be practicing or playing games, nearly 400 students and staff associated with the college’s athletic department participated on Dec. 6 in work projects around the Swannanoa Valley. Sheffey was at local nonprofit organization Bounty & Soul with some of his teammates, as well as with Meghan Austin, the head coach of the women’s team at the college, and a handful of players from the Cavaliers lacrosse team.
“We just unloaded food from the truck,” Sheffey said as he prepared to sort produce in the Bounty & Soul facility. “This goes to people who are less fortunate and struggling to provide for their families, so it feels good to help an organization that’s putting food on people’s tables.”
Gabe deBues, a junior on the Cavaliers lacrosse team and Christ School graduate from West Asheville, had heard about Bounty & Soul during his time volunteering for MANNA FoodBank. While midterm exams are only weeks away, deBues noted, the opportunity to help others in the community during this time of year was welcome.
“It’s a break from studying, and it’s a lot different than playing video games or hanging out,” he said. “This is something we can do to give back to the community that’s fun and rewarding.”
About 70 percent of the students at the Christ-centered college are athletes, said Jose Larios, the athletic director at Montreat. Sports are a realm in which students can learn valuable lessons that will stay with them long after they're done playing, he said.
Cavalier Care Day, which Larios described as a "comprehensive day of giving back to the community," is an example of how Montreat's athletic department is using sports as a tool to help students grow beyond the arena, he said.
“One of the best ways to teach responsibility, integrity, sportsmanship and things like that is through service,” Larios said. “This is where we live and play and what we try to do is mold character.”
In October, the college's efforts in developing quality people were recognized by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in - the association named Montreat a Gold-level Champions of Character Five-Star Institution. That designation is an important one, according to Larios, because it validates the college's commitment to fostering an environment that emphasizes character development.
Montreat softball coach Heather Maston plays a key role in the college's Champions of Character initiative, documenting ways in which teams demonstrate the program's five core values (integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership).
Maston began working with Black Mountain resident Margaret Hurt to organize Cavalier Care Day in August. Hurt's connections to various organizations throughout the community made her the perfect "point person in the community" for the project, Larios said, while Maston organized the event on the college's side.
"They worked together to identify organizations and people in the community that we could serve," Larios said. "We cast a wide net and emailed these organizations letting them know we were looking for nothing but an opportunity to serve them."
In all, members of various Montreat teams, many working outdoors in temperatures just under 40 degrees, helped 33 organizations and individuals in the community. Maston called the first annual Cavalier Care Day a "big success."
"I've spoken to several people at the organizations and residences we worked at, and they were all impressed by how hard the students-athletes and coaches worked," she said in an interview the day after the event.
Two dozen athletes and coaches helped construct a walkway at the Swannanoa Library, according to Maston.
"I don't know if the library was thinking the path would get finished yesterday," she said. "They got that finished, and that was quite an accomplishment."
Student-athletes also showed up for veterans at the Charles George VA Medical Center on Tunnel Road and the State Veterans Home in Black Mountain.
"They visited and talked with the veterans," Maston said. "That is important to me because both of my grandfathers served in the military and looking out for veterans is something that's near and dear to me."
The largest group of student-athletes on Cavalier Care Day was dedicated to a door-to-door food drive benefiting Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry. Thirty-four students broke up into groups of four and five to collect food for the Black Mountain-based nonprofit that provides local residents in need with vital resources.
"They serve about 1,000 people a month," Maston said. "Another thing they tend to run low on is toiletries, so a group of my softball players posted up outside of Sam's Club in Asheville to see if shoppers would be willing to help out with those items."
By the next morning, according to Maston, her office was filled with food and toiletries that she would later take to the ministry. "I could barely walk through" the office, she said. "We had tons of canned goods, and we collected boxes and boxes of toilet paper, shampoo, body wash and things like that to deliver there."
Maston is proud of the athletes at Montreat and the impact that they made in the community on Cavalier Care Day.
"This is big picture stuff," she said. "These kids won't be athletes forever. They're going to have to go out into the world, and this is the kind of experience that they can take with them well into the future."