FLOWERY BRANCH — Since it opened, Flowery Branch High School has had a unique celebratory tradition: a holiday pep rally.
The assembly, held Monday afternoon, wasn't to celebrate athletic or academic achievement.
Instead, it was to honor 40 local children in the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program, who were "adopted" for the holiday season by teachers, students, clubs and classes at the school.
"It's the only time the school comes together for something other than athletics," said Ricky Darracott, marketing education teacher and DECA adviser.
And though athletics were involved in the pep rally - cheerleaders, football, soccer and baseball players participated in a Branch-themed "12 Days of Christmas" skit - the center of the celebration was a small tree surrounded by presents for the CASA children.
The program started 10 years ago when Darracott had a CASA student in one of his classes.
"He told me about the program and how these kids have something horrible happen to them," Darracott said. "We can't change what's happened to them, but we can show them love."
He has another CASA student this year.
"This is a kid who's never had a birthday party, who's never had a Christmas present," Darracott said. "He had to quit playing sports here to get a job to support (his family). This Christmas, we loaded him up."
CJ Stockel, football strength conditioning coach at Flowery Branch, and the weight lifting team adopted a 10-year-old boy for the project.
"The whole idea of Christmas is about giving, not receiving," Stockel said. "It's a privilege and an honor to be able to share that blessing."
He said dues from the team went toward the gifts. Children had a minimum of $150 spent on them, Darracott said.
As representatives from each participating group lugged huge gift bags, carried remote-control cars and wrapped gifts and rode child-size bikes out to the middle of the gym floor, the room erupted in applause. The gifts were presented to CASA students after the assembly during a party in the school's cafeteria, which included decorating cookies, photos with Santa Claus and stuffing stockings with a variety of small goodies.
"It's substantial what they give to each child," said Connie Stephens, executive director of CASA. "It helps make Christmas a lot brighter for these kids. As a nonprofit organization, we are very grateful to the Flowery Branch High School students and teachers who made a contribution. ... It's significant that the school embraces the very spirit of Christmas."
The program has served more than 700 CASA students who attend Flowery Branch High, C.W. Davis Middle School and the feeder elementary schools over the past decade, Darracott said.
Several of those children were fostered or adopted by Linda Satterfield, president of the Adoptive and Foster Parent Association of Hall County.
Satterfield and her family have been participating since their daughter, now 6 years old, was 6 months old.
She and other foster parents do not get much money for holiday reimbursement, and though Satterfield said she would still make sure her children had a Christmas, the program with Flowery Branch High takes away some of the financial stress around the holiday season.
"It gives us a chance for us to have Christmas for our children," she said. "... because of the economic conditions, we're not reimbursed for anything."
While her children stuffed their stockings with lotion, small games, pencils and other toys at the party, Satterfield said they would not be opening their gifts right then.
"They'll wait until Christmas morning," she said. "This is their Santa Claus."