Off court, basketball players pass Christmas spirit

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
St. Charles resident Mabel Linthicum gives Jasper High School senior Brooke Nottingham a hug as the Jasper High School girls basketball team arrives to decorate Christmas trees at the health campus in Jasper on Monday. "It's a good team bonding thing for all the girls to come here," said assistant coach Eric Dall, seen at left. "And for them to see the smiles on their faces, I think they take pride in it."


JASPER — As they strung the lights, pinned on the ornaments and hung the beaded garland, Mabel Linthicum was reminded of Christmases past.

She and her 15 siblings used to decorate trees at their Birdseye home. Gosh, they had to have been big trees. With that many kids, you’ve gotta have big trees.

Linthicum, 87, still spends the holiday with her family. On Monday evening, however, she and other residents at the St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper received an early dose of Christmas cheer.

The Jasper High School girls basketball program visited the senior living facility after practice to deck out five trees with festive decorations — and spend time with their elders.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said St. Charles resident Marian Caldemeyer, 100. “And it’s wonderful they should come out to do it.”

For about an hour, songs like “O Holy Night” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” seeped from a nearby speaker as about 20 girls dug through crates of decorations and residents looked on.

Each artificial evergreen had a different theme. One was candy-cane-centric and loaded with white and red decorations. Ice cream ornaments drooped from another. Others glistened with gold balls, red baubles and purple orbs. A tiny fir sat in a corner surrounded by miniature carolers, their painted mouths perpetually open in song.

Jasper High School junior Hannah Schwenk decorates a Christmas tree with girls basketball teammates at St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper on Monday.

Senior guard Lexie Jerger said the annual gathering — the team has brought life to the barren trees for the better part of the past decade — is a positive way to bring youth into the nursing home.

“The second we walked in, there was already someone coming up to hug us,” Lexie said. “Just because they’re excited to see people in here. Young people that they don’t see every day. And just excited that they’re putting up Christmas. Everybody loves Christmas.”

Brooke Marks, life enrichment associate at St. Charles, explained that experiences like Mondays can be impactful on teens and open their eyes to “what the world’s really about.” Earlier in the day, head coach Jessica Mehringer said in a phone interview that the event is beneficial for both the residents and the players.

“It’s important for them to interact with other people in the community besides their families,” Mehringer said of the girls. “A lot of kids, when they’re this age, don’t have experiences of having family members that are in a residence home like St. Charles. And so it’s good for them to get to see those people and interact with them.”

While the Wildcats worked on the final tree of the night, sophomore center Izzy Hopf sat and chatted with her grandfather, Sylv Erny. This is Erny’s first year at St. Charles. Izzy said the trip isn’t a burden on the players, adding that they really enjoy being part of the fun.

“I like seeing all the grandparents and letting them experience this too,” she said. “Because they don’t get to experience it with their own families anymore much.”

Wednesday night, the Jasper boys basketball team will visit the senior living facility to decorate more trees and play bingo with the residents. Just like the girls, it will give them a chance to bond off the court and spread holiday spirit in their community.

“You just come here after practice and just focus on the realness of this time, of Christmas,” Lexie said. “And just doing things for others is just a really humbling experience. Just realizing what Christmas is all about, and just this time of the year.”

Jasper High School sophomore Izzy Hopf talks to her grandfather, St. Charles resident Sylvester Erny, at the health campus in Jasper on Monday.

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