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Originally published: 2012-10-15 13:15:49
Last modified: 2012-10-15 13:15:49

Teammates: 'At Appalachian, we've got the trust thing figured out'

by Susan King

Anna Freeman, Courtney Freeman and Kelsey Sharkey are seniors on Appalachian State University's varsity women's basketball team. When asked to name the most important element in team work, each answered independently of the others, "trust." 

They should know. 

On Oct. 27 with the season exhibition game against Mars Hill College, the three Appalachian seniors will begin their fourth season as teammates, friends and, now, leaders of a young team with five new freshmen.  

Relationships of trust are essential in any team sport, and, as in all relationships, they take time to develop.

"Being on this team and adopting a new family for four years has really shown me that, with time and effort, it is possible to love -- and trust -- people who are not like me," said Courtney Freeman, a health-care management major from Carlton, Ga.
Anna Freeman, an elementary education major from Thomasville, said, "As a women's basketball player, I've been exposed to and have been expected to prosper with people from different cultures, socio-economic statuses and personalities.  Once we've attained a level of trust, teamwork comes naturally."

 "Without trust, a team will never build a strong foundation or reach its full potential as a team," said Sharkey, an electronic media broadcasting major from Cincinnati, Ohio.  "A lot of people are afraid to let their guard down, but you have to open yourself up to people you are hesitant to know at first. Sometimes the effort pays off and sometimes not, but you can't let the failures keep you from trying again."  

That's the spine and spirit of team sports, of course. And yet, the structures that support the spine and the circumstances that shape the spirit are not so obvious.

The demand for discipline and dedication is absolute, in the classroom and on the court.

Academics come first. Women's basketball players typically carry the high end of a 12-to-15 hour course load. Appalachian requires student-athletes to have a grade point average of 2.0 to maintain eligibility. Head coach Darcie Vincent holds her players to a more rigorous standard: a 3.0.  Anna Freeman said, "We're not allowed to go off track." 

Courtney Freeman adds, "If we do, we have to go to study hall." 

Effective training is competitive, stimulating and transformational, drawing student-athletes out of their comfort zones. While academics and athletics stretch students' bodies and minds, a built-in requirement for service to others expands the team's understanding that character building, team building and community building follow similar models.  For Vincent, this means getting her players off the court and into the community where another set of relationships will be forged, some of them life altering.

True to their motto, "If there's a need, we're there," the seniors and their teammates have volunteered with numerous agencies in the High Country and beyond, including Habitat for Humanity, Operation Christmas Child, Hardin Park Elementary School, Boone United Methodist Church, Appalachian's record-breaking blood drives, Appalachian's Women's Center, and the Roblealto Child Care Association in Costa Rica, a sanctuary for the children of working parents who cannot afford day care.

"People are always looking for someone to follow, something to believe in. If you can lead even a small group in the right direction, you make a huge impact. Volunteering has really grounded me, helped me find my purpose, and made me grateful for what I have. It brings me great joy to know that someone else is benefiting or is happier because of a task I've done,"   Courtney Freeman said.
Kelsey said she has learned how much she has to offer to others, "even if it's something small. Many people strive to impact the world through big visions that help a large group of people, when really even the littlest acts are a step in the right direction."

On the court, in the classroom and in the community, challenges have been met and lessons learned.  Anna Freeman says, "We get caught up in our own lives and forget to notice that other people even exist. The most important thing I have learned from working with the community is to take the time to build relationships."
When asked if the three will stay in touch after graduation, another unanimous response ensued, this one in unison: "Yes."  It's not even a question. 

Anna Freeman, Courtney Freeman and Sharkey are vibrant witnesses to the value of trust: trust in mentors to lead them, trust in their peers to hold them accountable and trust in themselves to take the community-building lessons they have learned at Appalachian into the next chapter of their lives.
 With every intention of maintaining their connections, it's likely these young women will continue to be touchstones for one another -- and for countless other people -- for many years to come.

Last year, Appalachian Women's Basketball won its second straight Southern Conference title. They're looking to make it three in a row in 2012-13. Check out their schedule, stats, roster and much more at goasu.com/wbasketball.