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Dec. 12, 2012

Monarch Blog

When most people think of "basketball" and "charity," the first idea that pops into their minds is the free throw line.

Or as some like to call it, the "charity stripe."

Old Dominion's men's basketball team, however, practiced the true art of charity last week. They took some kids from the Lambert's Point neighborhood, which borders the campus, to go Christmas shopping.

It had been a while since Donte Hill, the 6-foot-5 junior who plays small forward for the Monarchs, had been down the toy aisle of a department store.

"When I was their age, I was into Pokémon cards, so the toy aisle has changed a bit," Hill said. "The young man I was with, we settled on a Hot Wheels track and a book."

The players paid for the gifts from their own pockets. Hill said acts and lessons like this one, acts of charity, of philanthropy, of honest-to-goodness giving, are as important as the time the players shared with the kids. The college education, it seems, comes in many forms.

Hill is majoring in sociology, so what the Monarchs did reached him on a variety of levels.

"I think when you experience an opportunity for humanistic studies you can really learn a lot," Hill said. "I tried to put myself in the kids' shoes. They were spending time with these really big, almost larger than life basketball players. We might seem important to them from a distance and we might be able to make a difference when we get up close."

It wasn't the first time for Hill, this type of give-back. He admitted that the road is two-way.

 "I get back in what I give when I do something like this and I think everybody does," Hill said. "Last year I was coaching during the summer as part of a criminal justice class I was taking. The professor wanted us to do charity work to reach out to the community, so I was coaching at the field house in Virginia Beach and that kind of stuff can be truly rewarding. Doing good things for others can help build your self."

From the hardwood to the diamond ...

In announcing this past week that John Smoltz would be the guest speaker for the ODU Baseball Banquet, to be held at the Sheraton Waterside on January 25th, the Monarchs broke form.

Typically, ODU has gone for the long-established Hall of Famer, guys like Johnny Bench, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Tom Seaver. In almost every case, the player at the microphone was already in the Hall of Fame.

Which brings us to the refreshing idea of Smoltz. He isn't in the Hall - yet - but he is very likely going to be.

 The 45-year-old Smoltz is most recognized for being the third member of the Big Three - Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz - during the heyday of the Atlanta Braves. But he's really so much more.

He's the only player in the history of the game with over 200 victories and over 150 saves. He's one of only two players - Dennis Eckersley is the other - to win 20 games in one season and save 50 in another. He has a Cy Young. He has a World Series ring. He's one of only 16 pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts. And he did a lot of his damage after missing the 2000 season while he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

Oh, and did we mention that he's also pretty darned good as a TV baseball analyst? Or that the Braves retired his No. 29 this past season? If that isn't enough, how's this: It's rumored that Smoltz was considered a run at a Congressional seat, Georgia's 7th district seat, back in 2010. A political career is not out of the question for this guy,

Smoltz won't be eligible for Hall of Fame balloting until the winter of 2014. ODU baseball coach Chris Finwood figured, why wait?

How'd the Monarchs land Smoltz? Well, for starters, director of baseball operations B.J. Burton reached out to an old friend, former VCU athletic director Richard Sander, who in turn reached out to Smoltz.

"We're fired up to get John Smoltz," Finwood said, the excitement oozing out of each word."He brings more than a couple of things that should be very appealing for our audience. He's a good, entertaining speaker who fits all the criteria for us.

"We actually found out we had him for the banquet about a month ago and it was kind of a struggle to keep it under wraps until the contract was signed and delivered. Believe me, I wanted to tell some people about this."

If you are interested, tickets are $65 each with a special rate of $45 each for groups of 20 or more. You can call 757-683-6964 for more information. Table sponsorships are also available.


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