8. Passing the bucket

Elwood’s Courtney Todd, left, Shenandoah’s Erikka Hill, center, and Elwood’s Claudia Leavell pose before a girls basketball game between Elwood and Wabash in November 2019. Todd and Leavell started a fundraiser at the game for Hill’s family after their house burned down a week prior.

“We have to do something.”

That’s what Courtney Todd said to her Elwood teammate Claudia Leavell when she heard the news while on a field trip Friday.

The news she heard was that a competitor, one who had just helped send Todd’s team to a 40-point loss the night before, had lost her home and all her belongings, including a family dog, in a fire the morning after the game.

The player is Erikka Hill, a three-sport star at Shenandoah. She won the state shot put championship last spring, is one of the fiercest hitters on the volleyball court and regularly posts double-doubles on the basketball court, like the one she had Thursday at Elwood.

What many may not realize is, while Hill is as competitive and as talented as anyone, she is also a compassionate and empathetic person. I’ve seen her apologize to players for fouling them and quickly help them up, something Leavell confirmed she had heard on the court. I’ve seen her express regret about pounding a volleyball into an opponent.

She is incredibly humble. She was the one person who was surprised last spring when The Herald Bulletin named her the girls track and field athlete of the year and was even more shocked when she won overall female athlete of the year at the THB Sports Awards show in June.

After going through several ideas, Todd and Leavell went to their coach, Craig Brunnemer, with a plan to pass a bucket at their Saturday basketball game against Wabash to collect money for Hill and her family.

They invited Hill to the game. She sat directly behind me with her teammate Kathryn Perry. We had a chance to chat a bit, and I was amazed at just how positive she was about everything that had happened.

Before the varsity game, the Panthers brought Hill onto the court to let the fans know what had happened and how they could help.

By the time the buckets were collected, they were full.

I saw Anderson Prep had a fundraiser planned at their Saturday game as well for Hill.

A simple act of compassion from a pair of kids has gotten the ball rolling.

It was Todd’s initial tweet that inspired me as well, and I want to help.

I want to help Hill, a great athlete and a better kid, who gives us sports writers so much to write about.

But even more than that, I want to help Todd’s message get out. I want her, and kids like her, to know these types of acts of kindness do not go wasted or fall on deaf ears.

As I told her late Saturday, if I can use this platform to be a bullhorn to amplify, not overshadow, her message, then so be it.

At the end of the game, I threw a $20 bill into the bucket. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot of money.

But I challenge everyone who can afford it, to match me. I’m not here to shame or guilt anyone who is cash strapped. But, if you are able, stop by the Elwood office sometime this week and chip in.

I also challenge every school to do something, whether it’s passing the bucket, having a hat day at school during the week or doing a halftime fundraiser at a game like APA did, to help Hill and her family. I see Lapel and Alexandria already have fundraiser plans in the works.

This isn’t the first incident like this, every community has had a member suffer a tragic loss.

But I’m always lifted up when we see how the communities in this area always seem to come together to help each other out, no matter the on-the-field rivalries or final scores.

Chances are Hill has beaten everyone in the area at something.

But at some point, she’s also helped them up.

This kid deserves everything we can give her.

And the Courtney Todds and Claudia Leavells of the world need to know even the smallest gestures of kindness can mean everything to someone else.

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4886.

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