Dec. 11, 2016
By Sara White
Christmas music echoed in the Joyce Center Thursday as my fellow student-athletes and I dressed in Christmas sweaters and costumes to celebrate our annual Pediatric Christmas Party. Junior football punter Tyler Newsome played the role of Santa Claus alongside sophomore softball pitcher Cait Brooks, who played Mrs. Claus. The pair undoubtedly brought the jolly spirit of Christmas from the North Pole to Notre Dame.
Roughly 200 people attended this year's party, which included pediatric patients and their family members. Notre Dame student-athletes decorated cookies, painted faces and played musical chairs, along with participating in basketball and hockey with the children and their families.
"With families and everybody there together they have a lot better time relating and they feel more comfortable, rather than when it's just them with a bunch of college kids," said junior fencer Hazem Khazbak. "Of course, with the variety of stations there's so much to do and there's always something new to do, which is great.
"I feel like being here at Notre Dame is such a special thing, and we receive so much. We are so lucky to be here and the amount of support and love the school gives to us is tremendous--so to be able to give back in some way is great."
Khazbak's team was in charge of cookie-decorating and face-painting, but it also took some time to have fun with musical chairs with Fighting Irish Fight For Life (FIFFL) teammate Adler, who came in second place twice in a row. As a testament to Adler's hard-fought finalist position, he beat his buddy Kristjan Archer, a senior on the fencing team. Archer was so competitive that he knocked senior softball pitcher Rachel Nasland off a chair.
At the spin a wheel and "guess the amount of candy" station, sophomore Collin Stoecker and his baseball team celebrated one girl's sweep of the prizes.
"This girl won both of the guessing candy jars and seeing how happy she was was just amazing," Stoecker said. "It's awesome seeing how much it means to the kids, just hanging out with them and giving them candy and toys. Seeing them smile and be happy is great."
Stoecker said he is humbled by the patients at the Pediatric Christmas Party because he gains a new perspective by spending time with them.
"It gives you a perspective that is really life-changing," Stoecker said. "We have so many things in our life that we take for granted and seeing these kids who have gone through tough battles with illness still be so happy and strong gives you a different perspective. It really teaches you to appreciate the things you have and your health and make sure every day you are thankful for these things."
For a moment I stopped to take in the surroundings. I saw a room full of my friends on other teams and my own teammates genuinely interacting with the kids and their families, getting to know each family and playing with each child. It made me proud to see the Notre Dame student-athlete community spreading an abundance of smiles, laughter and celebrations in high-fives and hugs.
This is a special time of year for Notre Dame student-athletes. We come together and give back to children in the community who inspire us and show us their personalities that are as unique as our own.
I think the best part is that the Notre Dame students were able to put aside their worries about their upcoming exams for a few hours to spend some time just being kids for a day.
Said Khazbak: "I think they start looking up to the student-athletes, so to be able to touch their lives, especially during a hard time like this, and make them as happy as they are when they're interacting with us and getting to know us is something special."
Sara White, a junior from San Diego, California, is a member of the Irish softball squad.