By Jessica Schwager
While thousands of UNL students made their way home to family and friends over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, the Nebraska women’s basketball team lagged behind to practice and prepare for their upcoming holiday tournament. Although the Huskers could have used a break from practice for rest, relaxation and recovery, they instead opted to give back to the Lincoln community. Just two days before Thanksgiving, the team headed to the People’s City Mission to serve meals, tell stories, and share laughs with Lincoln’s homeless community, an experience senior Kelsey Griffin would always keep in the back of her mind.
“We forgot all about practice that day,” Griffin said. “We were just so engrossed in that moment of helping those people and learning their stories and just trying to make their day. They were so excited to see Huskers in that kitchen serving them. It was just awesome. It was such a great feeling.”
Volunteering at the People’s City Mission is just one of many ways Griffin has given back to the Lincoln community during her five years at Nebraska.
The 6-2 forward from Eagle River, Alaska, starts by giving back to Husker Nation as she graces the Bob Devaney Sports Center with her commanding presence on the court. Her 2009-10 team-high averages of 17.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game have even powered the 13th-ranked Nebraska women’s basketball team to a school-record 12-game winning streak. While Griffin’s on-court abilities attract the “grown-up” area fans, her community outreach projects oftentimes help even the youngest of fans.
Since Griffin stepped foot on the Nebraska campus in 2005, she and the rest of women’s basketball team took a special interest in the students at Belmont Elementary School in Lincoln. Each week, representatives of the team spend time helping Belmont’s second grade class with reading activities, a volunteer activity that constantly reminds Griffin to appreciate what she has been given.
“I have gained a whole new appreciation for teachers,” Griffin said. “Elementary school teachers are amazing and I understand the importance of teachers. I’ve really gained an understanding about the foundation that teachers bring. I would be nowhere without my elementary school teachers.”
As a mentor at Belmont Elementary school, Griffin has also had the opportunity to watch second grade students grow and mature over the course of year.
“It was also really cool to see these little kids – these little people – they talk to you like they’re grownups,” Griffin said. “But then all of a sudden they go read and you see the process of someone maturing overtime. It’s just awesome. It’s a great experience.”
Through Nebraska’s Life Skills program, designed to help student-athletes succeed while in college and prepare for life after sports, Griffin has been able to participate in more than 15 major outreach activities. For four years, she has been a motivational speaker for the National American Education Week, where she has shared messages about the importance of education and responsible decision making to youth at several Lincoln Middle Schools. Griffin has also been a classroom speaker for the School is Cool Week for two years, where she spoke to area elementary schools about respect, character and involvement.
“Since her freshman year, Kelsey has been committed to excelling at the highest level on the court, in the classroom and the community,” Associate Athletic Director of Life Skills Keith Zimmer said. “She epitomizes the term student-athlete reflecting on the entire University of Nebraska and intercollegiate athletics in an outstanding manner.”
Fortunately, Griffin’s hard work on the court, in the classroom and in the community have not gone unnoticed, as she one of 30 candidates for the 2010 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, which is an award presented to NCAA senior student-athletes who demonstrate character in the classroom, community and in competition.
“I am very honored to be nominated for that award,” Griffin said. “It means a lot to me that my community service and my playing have been recognized to put me on that list. It’s a great motivator. It’s rewarding me and the other nominated seniors for all of their hard work, not only on the court and in the classroom, but in community service. I think it’s great that there is an award out there for that because it’s so important to give back and help kids. If there weren’t people who came and talked to me or players who I could watch who sent out messages, then I probably wouldn’t be where I am today, so I’m really thankful for that.”
While Griffin excels in the community as a Nebraska student-athlete, she doesn’t plan to stop helping people even after her May 2010 graduation. A biological sciences major, Griffin hopes to follow in the footsteps of her parents and work in the medical field. Griffin’s father, Jim, works as a pharmacist, while her mother, Jan, is a nurse, and Griffin has set her sights upon being a doctor.
“I think it would be just awesome to be a doctor and to help people,” Griffin said. “The human body just fascinates me. Watching what we do, day in and day out, the hits we take, the extremes we push ourselves to just amaze me. I’m so excited to learn more about that. If I can learn about that and help people at the same time, then I think that would be the best job in the world.”
Griffin knows all too well about taking hits in basketball, as she played with broken ribs during her sophomore season and sat out last season due to a foot injury. She even started out this season playing with a “mask” over her face to prevent a further nose injury. With an array of injuries during her career, Griffin is quick to credit the doctors, trainers and her teammates for helping her get back on the court.
And her fellow Huskers are happy to have Griffin back this season in a senior leadership role.
“I really feel like she’s developed into a tremendous leader,” Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said of Griffin. “She has always been a mentally strong, hardworking person, but in the last couple of years she has taken on a greater leadership role in terms of being a vocal leader. Seldom in the five years that I have coached her have I ever had to question her effort. Her teammates have the greatest respect for her because of the kind of person she is and what she brings everyday to whatever task she has.”
As the non-conference season winds down, Griffin will play a vital role in helping the Huskers achieve their conference goal of capturing the Big 12 Championship title.
“The Big 12 is wide open this year,” Griffin said. “It’s competitive. It always is. Everyone has been saying that there are six potential teams that could be Big 12 champs this year, so we figured why not us? We want to set our goals high and that’s a high goal. We think it’s attainable, and it’s going to take a lot of work and we’ve worked really hard up until this point, but we have to keep working hard.”
As for Griffin’s individual goals during the Big 12 season? Other than continuing to be a powerhouse on the court, in the community and in the classroom, she hopes make the most out of her last season of basketball.
“My personal goal is to have as much fun with these girls as I can,” Griffin said. “This season is really about the memories and the bonds I am making with these girls. Being able to play with these other five seniors that I have gone through so much with, I just want to make the most of it. I want to suck up every moment.”