Local parents ‘foster’ a bond with players far from home

Courtesy photo<p>Hillsboro ‘foster parents’ Rod and Brenda Hamm enjoy a moment with their Tabor College “daughters,” Kaleigh Troxell (second from left) and Tonisha Dean, at a Bluejay basketball game a couple of seasons ago.
Courtesy photo<p>Hillsboro ‘foster parents’ Rod and Brenda Hamm enjoy a moment with their Tabor College “daughters,” Kaleigh Troxell (second from left) and Tonisha Dean, at a Bluejay basketball game a couple of seasons ago.
When students move to college, they often miss out on some of the special comforts of home, like home-cooked meals and holidays treats.

In addition, student athletes often miss the support and encouragement of familiar faces in the crowd.

Students on the Tabor men’s and women’s basketball teams have a unique opportunity to fill some of those holes created by moving away from home.

For the past five years, the Tabor teams have participated in a “foster family” program, in which student athletes are paired and matched with a family from the community.

Women’s head coach Shawn Reed, who previously coached at Sterling College, initiated the program.

“We had this at Sterling when I was there,” Reed said. “I wanted to do it here, because I felt like the opportunities were similar between the two schools and the communities.”

According to Reed, the main purpose of the program is to provide athletes “a home away from home.”

Reed presented the idea to men’s head coach Micah Ratzlaff, who said his first thought was that the program sounded like a lot of work.

“Once we got that first year out of the way—it’s still a lot of work, don’t get me wrong—but now the system is in place and the benefit is far bigger than anything else,” Ratzlaff said.

The coaches’ wives are crucial to the program’s success, as they do much of the behind-the-scenes work, such as communicating with foster families and planning meals.

“We couldn’t do this without our wives,” Reed said. “We’re really blessed to have spouses who are willing to pour into our teams just like we do.”

Fostering relationships

Under the foster family program, each student athlete is paired with another athlete from his or her team. The pair is then matched with a volunteer family from the Hillsboro community.

“We feel like one of the great things about Tabor and about Hillsboro is that we are a small, tight-knit community where the college and the community work in concert together,” Reed said.

“We have this foster parent program to try to—for lack of a better term—foster that relationship and build on one of the things that makes Tabor unique.”

There are no strict rules as to how that relationship develops, but generally foster families invite their athletes over for home-cooked meals, bring them treats on birthdays and holidays, and support them at games.

“It’s always fun to go to (my foster family’s house) for dinner, and they always make meals that we really like,” said senior Kaleigh Troxell.

At the beginning of the year, athletes fill out forms that include their favorite meals and desserts, which give the families ideas of what to make.

“My foster parents have just been really encouraging,” said senior Nicole Decker. “They always come talk to me after games.”

Troxell’s foster parents, Rod and Brenda Hamm, said they have enjoyed being a part of their athletes’ lives during college.

“Our reward is to see them develop over the years,” Brenda said. “It’s a time when a lot of things are happening in their lives, so it’s a neat phase of life to observe and speak in to at times.”

Lasting impacts

The foster family program has had an impact on both the athletes and the families.

“It’s so profound and special that on our senior night, we have families and foster families out there with our players,” Reed said. “It’s a really valuable relationship to keep our players tied in with the community, but also keep our community tied in with our team.”

Dale Shewey, who has been a foster parent for the past three years, said the program has had a unique impact on his young daughter.

“(Our foster athletes) are on our minds a lot,” he said. “We talk about them with our young daughter. They probably impact us the most just because our daughter gets so much thrill and satisfaction out of knowing these two a little bit closer than others.”

One of the Shewey’s foster athletes, junior Amber Bonham, said it’s fun to have a foster family with young children.

“After all of the games, she always runs up and gives me a big hug, and she always asks me when the next game is and when I’ll be able to come over to their house,” she said.

Senior Tena Loewen said she enjoys hearing stories from other athletes and foster families.

“All of a sudden, you gain all these extra brothers and sisters and moms and dads on the team,” she said. “On game days, it’s witness, too, seeing all the different families that come, and a lot of those that are pretty faithful are foster families.”

Ratzlaff said he has seen many benefits from the men’s side as well.

“It’s been huge for me because since we started this program, recruiting has really gotten well outside of Kansas, so these guys have that sense of family while being at school,” he said. “That right there has probably been the biggest benefit for my program because we have players from such long distances.”

The foster program has had an especially large impact on Troxell.

“My freshman year I was going to leave, and I had a conversation with Rod, my foster dad, after one of our games,” she said. “He talked to me for like an hour and just really showed me that he cared about me and how I was doing. That conversation made me decide I couldn’t leave during the middle of the year.”

Troxell has stayed four years and is now a starting guard for the women’s team.

“I always kind of credit him for me sticking out my freshman year,” she said. “He really made me feel like people here care about us.”