LOGAN, Utah – It started as an assignment in a leadership class, but it ended with a realization of how willing members of the Utah State community are to help their own and the opportunities to serve off of the basketball court.
USU sophomore guard Sam Merrill was tasked with finding a project that would be helpful to an organization, group or person. It didn’t take him long to think of a local organization that the men’s basketball team had already formed a relationship with, TOP Sports.
“As part of our community service and outreach we go there and play basketball with them once a year,” he said. “They are a fun group and are fun to play with.”
TOP Sports activities address the recreational and leisure activity needs of children and youth with disabilities living in the Cache Valley area (Logan and surrounding communities). The initial project titled ‘leisure and recreational activities for differently-abled children,’ increased the awareness of the need for offering modified recreational opportunities in the community. The recreational organizations in the community responded with a commitment to expand and modify recreation/leisure activities and programs to meet the needs and expectations of children and youth with disabilities.
“My original play was to raise money and get new jerseys and then have them come to the game and get recognized at the half,” Merrill said.
Although the original plan didn’t work out, Merrill formulated another plan to raise money to provide new baseball equipment for the group.
“We adjusted our idea and found they needed some other things,” he said. “We started a GoFundMe and within 10 hours we had the money we needed, all $400.”
Although some of the money came from other sources, Merrill found a common tie between many of the donations.
“Most of the donations came from people I didn’t even know,” he said, but then donations from members of the Utah State family began to roll in. “(Head football coach) Matt Wells gave a generous donation, Scotty G (Scott Garrard, play-by-play for USU radio) gave a generous donation, as well.
“We have great support here in the valley and throughout,” Merrill continued. “I had a football player, who I don’t think I have even talked to, donate 10-20 dollars and said it was cool what we were doing.”
The project was the first that Merrill has organized since his Eagle Scout project, but it is something that he plans on pursuing.
“I would like to do other projects like this in the future,” he said. “You really have to get yourself into it, but it was a cool experience. There are a ton of opportunities to help people and in the future I’m hoping that I don’t have to have a school assignment to do something like this.”
For his efforts, Merrill was nominated as Utah State’s student-athlete for the Mountain West SAAC Community Service Team.
Merrill and the rest of the Aggies will open their Mountain West Championship run on the hardwood today, facing Colorado State at 2:30 p.m. (MT), at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.
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