Commodores host holiday party for kids

On Friday morning, Vanderbilt student-athletes hosted the annual Student Athlete Holiday Party for children from the Metro Nashville Public Schools. This year 58 first graders from Ross Elementary School were the invited guests.

The annual party is sponosored by the Student-Athlete Advisory Board. Once again, defensive tackle Robert Dinwiddie, President of SAAB, was the master of ceremonies.

The vice-presidents, Erica Grimaldi from the women's basketball team and Brent Richard from the men's soccer team, were responsible for organizing the event, and student athletes from each of the varsity teams were responsible for buying and wrapping gifts for the children.

Traditionally, it's Dancer and Prancer and the rest of the reindeer that bring Santa's gifts. But for this party, Caroline and Joanna and other members of the Student Athlete Advisory Board take the place of the reindeer.

In the past, the party was held in the Hendrix Room in the McGugin Center. This year the party's been moved to Memorial Gym. The guests of honor have arrived, so it's time to get the party started.

First, Robert Dinwiddie reads to the children.

Then it's time for the main event. To a rousing chorus of "Here Comes Santa Claus", the jolly old elf (who looks suspiciously like defensive tackle Matt Clay) makes his appearance. The men's basketball team has taken over the reindeer duties.

One by one the children are called to the front to get their presents. Erica Grimaldi and Nicole Jules from the women's basketball team and Robert Dinwiddie from the football team are Santa's helpers. If they want to, children can have their picture taken with Santa.

After they get their presents, the children meet the team who sponsored them, then find a convenient place to open their presents.

Carla Thomas, from the women's basketball team, poses for a photo with one of the guests.

Katie Antony, also from the women's basketball team, helps one of the children try out one of his new toys.

When you have a basketball court, children, balls, and athletes, it's not surprising that a game breaks out. Shan Foster fights off Otis Washington while one of the first graders sets up for a shot.

Cherish Stringfield, from the women's basketball team, takes on Santa Claus.

The media was invited, and Fox 17 is on the scene. Abi Ramsey and Ashley Earley, co-captains of the women's basketball team, take a break for an interview.

After the presents were opened, there's a pizza lunch, then time to just hang out. Senior center Dawid Przybyszewski from the men's basketball team poses with one of the guests.

Several of the visiting girls help Therese Griner, from the women's bowling team, try out some new hair styles.

Then it's time to say goodbye. The children from Ross read aloud together a thank-you letter to the student-athletes: "Dear Vanderbilt Athletes, Thank you for inviting us to a Christmas Party. If we go to school everyday and persevere, maybe one day we can go to college at Vanderbilt. Have a very Merry Christmas! Love, the Ross 1st Graders."

With their presents safely packed away in paper bags, the children file out to their waiting school bus while Shan Foster waves goodbye.

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Photographs copyright 2004 by Whitney D. for Top Stories