Decking the Halls with Balls of Jolly

Decking the Halls with Balls of Jolly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Decking the Halls with
Balls of Jolly

A number of years ago, NBA All-Star Cedric Ceballos hosted a free basketball clinic for a couple hundred youngsters. At the end of the event, Ceballos—then playing for the Los Angeles Lakers—handed out half a dozen autographed basketballs.

One lucky recipient, a boy about eleven years old, hugged Ceballos and then hugged the ball. But what really touched me was this: As I left the gym, I saw the boy outside shooting baskets on one of the blacktop courts . . . using his autographed ball.

While the other handful of lucky kids surely went home and put theirs in places of honor, this boy had already dribbled, shot and worn off Ceballos’s valuable signature.

Curious, I asked the boy why he hadn’t taken the ball straight home.

“I’ve never had my own ball to shoot with before,” he explained happily.

It made me wonder about similar kids—kids who don’t have their own basketballs to shoot, their own soccer balls to kick, their own footballs to throw or their own baseballs to play catch. And so it was that I began using my regular sports column to ask readers to step up to the plate. I started an annual ball drive for underprivileged children.

Great gifts, with no batteries required and no breakable parts.

The first year, about one hundred were donated. That just got the ball rolling, so to speak. The next year’s total was 363, then 764 and 877.

Which brings us to this past Christmas. And Briana.

After reading my Thanksgiving Day column announcing “Woody’s Holiday Ball Drive,” Briana responded like an All-Star point guard. The nine-year-old dished out assists like a mini–Magic Johnson. In notes attached to her generous gifts for other kids, she wrote, in neat printing that would make her teacher proud, a message that should make her parents even prouder:

I saw your wish list in the paper and I wanted to help. I know how important it is to help others. So this year I saved money by collecting recycables (sic). So here I give to you: 5 basketballs, 2 footballs, 2 soccer balls, 1 volleyball, 1 bag of baseballs, 1 bag of softballs. I hope this helps.

Happy holidays,
Briana Aoki

Her generosity kicked off a heartwarming campaign of kids helping kids in need.

As a result, ten-year-old Sarah and eight-year-old Mitch emptied “The Jar.” Kept on the family’s fireplace hearth, it collected pocket change, some chore money and even coins found in the laundry. Sarah chose a soccer ball and Mitch selected a football to buy and share.

Professional tennis players Mike and Bob Bryan, identical twins, served up a donation of twenty-five footballs and one hundred top-of-the-line basketballs. Others stepped forward, too.

The life lesson here is this: A lot of great kids find joy in giving and joy in sharing—loose change in a jar, wages for chores, allowance money, coins from recycling—just to make a difference. A big difference. A difference of . . .

397 basketballs
218 footballs
178 playground balls
161 soccer balls
104 baseballs
29 softballs
26 cans of tennis balls
14 volleyballs

GRAND TOTAL: 1,127 balls—and smiles
—for kids in need this
Christmas morning.

Woody Woodburn

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