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Hall County seniors focus on giving ahead of Lanierland
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The seniors of Hall County’s basketball teams heard from someone who once was in their shoes when he experienced an outpouring of support after a family tragedy. They also received a glimpse into the world of the children they help through toys they collected and delivered Thursday morning to the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children in Gainesville.

Giving back was a central theme during a breakfast held Thursday at the center in association with the upcoming 55th Lanierland Tournament, which starts Dec. 27 at West Hall. The players and their coaches dropped off toys and heard about the role of the ETCC, which distributes the toys as Christmas presents for abused children it has worked with in the past year.

Antione Whelchel, a 1999 East Hall High graduate, told the story of his house burning down on the first day of the Lanierland Tournament in December 1996. He had just gotten to the East Hall gym for a mid-day shoot-around before a game against Johnson later that day when someone came in and told him his house was on fire.

He couldn’t believe it but rushed home to see that it was true. The news about his house was announced at the tournament that night, and over the next three days the generosity of fans poured out to help his family.

Whelchel recalled how grateful he was for the giving of so many in the community to help his family, and applauded the seniors’ willingness to help area children who have suffered.

The ETCC “provides services to Hall and Dawson County residents under the age of 18 who are victims of sexual or severe physical abuse or neglect, as well as their non-offending family members,” according to its website.

Chestatee boys coach Chad Pittman was glad to have his players be a part of bringing toys and hearing about the organization.

“This is a very needed and very good charity,” Pittman said.

ETCC executive director Heather Hayes told the players about the large number of people it takes to come alongside a child for support, investigation and prosecution after abuse is reported. Hayes illustrated it by having people stand up to represent those who would be a part of the process. She emphasized how important these people are in helping children by sharing information about their case so the children don’t become re-victimized by having to constantly retell the stories of their pain.

“It’s good to see how many people are involved,” Gainesville girls coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said. “It’s just not one or two people. It is a huge number of people that play a very important role in trying to protect innocent children.”

Program director Jane Carpenter said the breakfast helped the students have a better understanding of everything that goes into helping a child who has been abused.

“It’s a learning curve,” Carpenter said. “It’s a connect-the-dots kind of thing.”

Gifts the players brought ranged from basketballs and soccer balls to crayons, baby dolls and sleeping bags. Boxes and bags were filled with the toys.

Lakeview Academy boys coach Todd Cottrell said being part of the event provided great perspective for his seniors and allows them to pass on a mentality of generosity to their younger teammates.

“They’re really learning about the power of giving and how important it is to give and take the focus off yourself,” Cottrell said. “And that’s a great thing to see.”

Hill-Gilmore said it can be an eye-opening experience for players to see what others are going through and to be able to tell people in their life somewhere they can go if they are abused.

“It’s always a great idea for kids in the community, especially athletes, to go and participate in events like (Thursday at) Edmondson-Telford,” Hill-Gilmore said. “They’re so privileged and don’t understand what other kids may be going through in our schools.”

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