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Published on January 24th, 2017 | by Zachary Smith


FSC Women’s Basketball Impacts Off the Court

The Florida Southern women’s basketball team has opened up its 2016-2017 season with a 12-5 record and sits in second place in the Sunshine State Conference. However, head coach Betsy Harris and her team’s influence stretches well beyond the court.

On a weekly basis, Coach Harris and her team visit and volunteer at Brookdale Oakbridge Retirement and Assisted Living Facility.

During their time at the facility, players engage in a multitude of fun activities with the residents like Yahtzee and Bingo, coloring and holiday parties.

Games like Bingo allow for the residents and the girls to have quality time with each other and a bit of fun.

Executive Director of Brookdale Oakbridge Sheryl Vitelli has said that the girls have also brought some of the residents up to speed on some of the latest technological trends. The facility recently opened a new technology research center, and upon its grand opening, the team introduced residents to iPads and iPhones. Some residents had Facebook accounts made for them in order for them to keep in touch with the players.

Lifting Spirits in Lakeland

Regardless of the activity, Vitelli believes that the team’s impact on the residents is amazing and has built a sense of family between the residents and the girls.

“They (the girls) enrich their lives by playing with them, and caring for them, and bringing back that playful spirit,” Vitelli said. “Not all of our residents have family that is close, so they don’t get to see them a lot, and so I think that our residents have taken them in as their grandchildren, and some, children.”

Vitelli said that some of the team refers to residents as their “grandmocs.”

Junior guard Jensen Blassage said the experiences with the residents at Brookdale have been eye-opening because they have made the team realize how any act of kindness can go such a long way.

“When we walk in there, you see the expressions on their face and they are so happy to see us,” Blassage said. “It makes you sit back and think ‘wow, by me just doing this small gesture, it can make such a positive impact on someone’s life.’”

Harris and her team don’t limit themselves to serving one organization in the Lakeland community. Throughout her three-year tenure at FSC, Harris said she and her team have partnered with Habitat with Humanity, the Lights of Lakeland, and most recently, Noah’s Ark of Central Florida.

Noah’s Ark is an organization that provides helpful support, education, housing and an improved lifestyle for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in the Central Florida area.

The team plays a fun pickup game each year with many of the organization’s members in order for the disabled individuals to enjoy friendly competition and bond with the players. The next pickup game is scheduled for Jan. 26.

Harris Picking Up Where She Left Off

Harris adopted the practice of serving the community well before her arrival at FSC.

Prior her arrival at FSC, Harris was the head women’s basketball coach at the College of Coastal Georgia. To be more exact, Harris was the first ever head women’s basketball coach at Coastal Georgia as she helped start Coastal Georgia’s women’s program.

Harris faced an uphill battle from day one at Coastal Georgia. Harris’s team was full of entirely new faces with no chemistry or understanding, and the program had no prominence in the community.

However, Harris said she believed that serving in the community could provide vital bonds between players and could be a great way to market the program and the college. Harris and her Coastal Georgia team partnered with Habitat for Humanity during her three-year reign at Coastal Georgia, and the bonds her team built off the court turned into bonds on the court as Harris went 68-27 before joining FSC.

Harris instilled the same practice of serving in the community and the FSC women’s basketball program has thrived with Harris at the helm.

In her first two seasons at FSC, Harris guided the team to an overall record of 40-20 and its second ever Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament in the 2015-2016 campaign.

Building Better Character

Harris has said she encourages her athletes to be involved in the community in order to gain a greater sense of character, understand selflessness and build team chemistry. She said that her players must learn to do for others, do what is right and realize that everything done when on a team must unselfish. Harris also feels her team also should understand that effective play on the court starts off the court.

“If they get along and care about each other off the court, a lot of times that will carry onto the court; it’s not really the other way around. It always starts off the court,” Harris said. “You have to develop the relationships off the court in order for the relationships on the court to work.”

For others like Vitelli, the impact that Harris and her team have on the community goes beyond simply being selfless. Vitelli said she believe the younger generations seem to have lost connection with the older generations and admires Harris’s desire to rekindle the lost connection.

“I think our youth today forget that older generation, they forget that older person in their family and think ‘Oh that is just Grandma she just sits in the chair and doesn’t do anything,’” Vitelli said. “I think Coach Harris has instilled in these girls that family values are just so important in the lives of everyone, and these girls have enriched the lives our residents.”

Harris and her team will be back in action at Jenkins Field House against Rollins College at 5:30 p.m.


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