Sending some fun overseas

Donations: When a former county student serving in Iraq wrote to say the soldiers could use sports equipment, athletic directors answered the call.

Education Beat

News from Anne Arundel County schools and colleges

August 21, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Shortly after school let out for the summer, Arundel High School Principal Sharon Stratton received an e-mail from a former student.

It was Jonathan Matys, who had graduated from Arundel in 2000 and had become a sergeant with the Army, serving with a military intelligence battalion in Iraq.

"He was just giving me an update on where he was and what he was doing," Stratton said. Matys also mentioned that he liked to play softball and other sports in his spare time but didn't have much equipment. "Maybe you can help us out," he wrote, according to Stratton.

Stratton forwarded the e-mail to Marlene Kelly, coordinator of athletics for Anne Arundel County, who sent e-mails to the athletic directors at the county's high schools.

Directors of six schools responded by donating sporting equipment, including softballs, bats, gloves, footballs, golf clubs and volleyballs, Kelly said.

"There were all kinds of things," she said.

Driving between the schools to pick up the equipment, "the whole back of my Highlander was full," she said.

The response was particularly impressive because the request went out in the summer, when the athletic directors aren't around much.

"They're kind of in and out for the summer, but most at least check their e-mails," Kelly said. "We kept after them a little bit, and we got a nice response."

Bernie Walter, Arundel High School's athletic director, said he knew Matys "just in passing," but was eager to send the equipment.

"We're pretty excited about helping our soldiers have recreational time to play some sports," he said.

"We sent some pretty decent stuff over there, and a lot of it was new," he said.

The next challenge was getting the equipment to Iraq. Help came in the form of Tom McKnight, vice president of Arundel High's booster organization.

At a booster meeting, Stratton described the e-mail from Matys and mentioned that the Iraq softball team was called the Wildcats -- Arundel's mascot.

McKnight, an employee with the Department of Defense, volunteered to arrange the shipping, Stratton said.

"If it weren't for him, I don't know how the heck we would have gotten the stuff over there," Stratton said.

The price for sending the 57 pounds of equipment was about $400, Stratton said, and McKnight found an anonymous donor to pick up the cost.

Because McKnight works for the government, he said, "it's a little easier for me to facilitate something like this."

McKnight, who served in the Army for 20 years, said he was happy to be involved.

"It kind of hit close to home," he said. McKnight said he received an e-mail from Matys saying the equipment had been received.

"Thank you all so much!!!" read the e-mail, which McKnight received Aug. 13. "We just got the boxes today. The sports equipment is such a morale booster! From all of the soldiers, thank you."

Stratton said her only regret about sending the equipment was that the project took place over the summer, when students weren't around to participate.

"School was out, the kids were gone and I was disappointed because they would have run with it," she said.

However, plans are under way to send a second shipment, and possibly set up a monthly delivery of items that the soldiers need, not just sporting equipment, she said. McKnight has offered to handle the shipping.

With school back in session soon, Stratton knows the students will get involved as well.

"I'm just so excited about this because my goal as a principal is always to be reaching out to the community," she said.

At a countywide meeting of coaches this month, the coaches were invited to send items from their schools, or even clean out their personal closets.

"I'm sure that they have some personal items that are in pretty good shape that they're not using any more that they can donate," Walter said.

He expects the response to be stronger now that summer is almost over.

"I know a lot of people were not even aware that we had done it in the first place" because it took place while school was out, he said.

Future donations will also be sent to Matys, who can distribute the sports equipment and other items as needed, Walter said.

"Hopefully," he said, "they can leave some of the stuff over there and get the kids in Iraq to play as well."

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