A group of Big 12 student-athletes, including seven from TCU, visited Cook Children’s hospital in Fort Worth Saturday, hoping to spread a little joy to some hurting kids.The 38 athletes representing all 10 schools and nearly every sport in the conference are in town for the league’s fourth annual student-athlete Leadership Summit this weekend.Saturday’s morning visit to the children’s hospital was not only a way of servicing the community, but helped the athletes learn valuable leadership skills.“It makes me feel good to give back to the community,” TCU defensive lineman Chucky Hunter said. “It’s a good feeling to see you put a smile on a kid’s face.”The athletes played games with kids who are healing from a range of illnesses, including a broken arm to brain surgery.The visit was old hat for TCU soccer player Kelly Johnson, who has volunteered once a week at Cook Children’s as part of TCU Knights. She participated in the league’s Leadership Summit last June in Lubbock.“It was wonderful,” she said. “It’s a bonding time and building camaraderie and coming together with the other athletes and seeing what they do at their universities and being able to bring those ideas back to TCU.”Other TCU athletes taking part Saturday were women’s basketball player Latricia Lovings, men’s swimmer Cooper Robinson, soccer player Makenzie Koch, equestrian team member Taylor Gillette and football safety Sam Carter.The Leadership Summit was originated by the Big 12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Dr. Prentice Gautt Student-Athlete Welfare Committee in 2007. It’s funded by the Big 12 Board of Directors. The league touts the one of a kind summit as a way to provide leadership opportunities for student-athletes “through targeted programming including diversity, leadership skill building exercises and analysis, self-awareness, communication, decision making, problem solving and collaborative skills.”Big 12 associate commissioner Ed Stewart said the annual event is a way to help already known student leaders become stronger leaders on their campuses.“We’re hoping to enhance their leadership skills and build upon the already identified characteristics that they’ve developed on their campuses and just help them find ways to become better leaders,” Stewart said. "They can learn from other leaders and develop plans to take back to their campuses to help their teams.”The diversity of the program was on display Saturday morning at the hospital. Athletes from a wide range of sports made crafts, played hockey, and basketball with the kids, despite some who are wheelchair bound.“It’s really rewarding to be able to spend time with them,” Robinson said.For Hunter, who is, admittedly, a naturally shy person, the weekend has opened his eyes.“There are so many people from different sports, different backgrounds and it’s teaching us how to communicate with different kinds of people and be a leader for everybody on your team,” he said. “It makes feel real good. I’m grateful to be in this spot, to be a leader for my team. I used to be shy and sit back and watch everything, but now I’m out, meeting new people.”“It feels good to meet new people, guys I’ve played against and guys from different sports,” Hunter said, jokingly adding, “I may have more friends than enemies this year.”That remains to be seen on the football field this fall. But off the field at Cook Children’s Hospital, Hunter and his fellow Big 12 athletes have already made a lot more friends.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs