Shelby County athletes give back abroad

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Group of 14 Rockets join church mission trip to help build homes, relationshiops

By Josh Cook

For many high schoolers, spring break is often a time to hit the beach and work on tans.

Several Shelby County High School student-athletes, however, recently spent their spring break in a much different way.

Fourteen members of Rockets’ sports teams – ranging from soccer to tennis to golf to basketball to football to track and field – built houses, chicken coops and ovens for less fortunate families during a mission trip to Guatemala.

“It was definitely incredible,” Shelby County senior Deric Hyman said.

Hyman, a linebacker on the football team and a thrower for the track and field team, was one of the baker’s dozen-plus-one Rocket athletes who were part of a youth group from Shelby Christian Church that made the trip south to Central America during Shelby County Public Schools’ spring break, the first week in April. 

Also making the journey were seven of Hyman’s classmates – Abby Siegel (cheerleading, girls’ track), Stuart Orange (boys’ soccer, tennis, track), Samantha Orange (girls’ soccer, track), Anna Collins (girls’ soccer), Zach Brown (boys’ soccer, tennis), Heather Shouse (girls’ golf) and Lauren Smitha (cheerleading). As well as three sophomores – Luke Dove (boys’ soccer, basketball, tennis), Zander Weeks (boys’ basketball, soccer), Cameron Weeks (soccer); and three freshmen – Ethan Patterson (boys’ soccer, tennis), Harrison Baldwin (boys’ tennis), Spencer Shouse (baseball).

Although there may be some correlation between athletes doing humanitarian activities – “We like to get out and do things and be active,” Stuart Orange said – Shelby Christian Church student minister Seth Heller, who led the trip, had his own explanation.

“I think it’s just a really well-rounded group of kids,” Heller said. “They are great athletes and great students.”

The group of 31 (which included 21 students and 10 adults) flew from the United States to Guatemala City, then took a bus an hour to stay at Mimi’s House Guatemala, a girls’ orphanage that also houses mission “teams.”

Each morning the group would rise, eat breakfast and then go to a local school.

“One time we pulled up to a school and they were all outside chanting, ‘Gringos! Gringos!’” Orange recalled. 

The group took uniforms for the students and also had Bible study classes in addition to some good old-fashioned playtime.  

“They all wanted to be thrown up into the air,” Hyman said. “After about ten kids I was drenched in sweat.”

After visiting the schoolchildren – “It was so incredible, those kids are so sweet,” Siegel said – it was off to work. The group built two houses, one on a hillside, from the ground up.

“You got to work with the families and build relationships too,” Samantha Orange said.

This was the fourth year that Hyman and the Orange twins spurned the usual high school spring break and made the mission trip with SCC.

“I’d rather go service people and give up my time to help them,” Hyman said. “I’d rather help change other peoples’ lives before myself.”

Three years ago the group went to Mexico. Two years ago it traveled to Haiti and last year SCC went to Guatemala.

“The whole thing in general is so incredible,” said Siegel, who made the trip for the second straight year. “It gives you perspective. It’s easy to get stuck in, ‘This is my life in Shelby County.’”

The trips, though, are something that most say they’ll continue to do in life, even after they graduate high school and finish competing in their respective sports.

“I’d go back right now if I could,” Siegel said less than 48 hours after returning.