Delaware News

Big Walnut tennis team returns favor to charity

Team collecting care-package items after nonprofit helped freshman's baby sister

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Big Walnut High School boys tennis coach Ryan Balaz wanted to teach something other than tennis to his team.

"I wanted to have the kids do something to make an impact with the community beyond the tennis court," he said.

After reaching out to parents for ideas, he learned the best way to reach out is to start within his own team.

Big Walnut High School freshman DJ Werner's sister had been diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition in which the skull bones fuse together prematurely and incorrectly, causing the head to become misshapen.

Almost a year ago, at 10.5 months old, Werner's sister, Kaiya, underwent major surgery to correct the malformation.

Werner's mother, Jennifer Mc Farland, suggested the team reach out to a nonprofit organization and help a group that has helped one of its own.

"It's nice to be able to give back to someone who has given something to us," McFarland said.

The tennis team will collect care-package items to be donated to the Cranio Care Bears, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to families whose infants are diagnosed with craniosynostosis and face reconstructive skull surgery.

McFarland said she received a care package from the Cranio Care Bears prior to Kaiya's surgery, which took place in Texas. The package contained simple items, such as baby socks, pajamas, ibuprofen, toothbrushes and other toiletries.

"Everything you might forget at the hospital, they throw in there," McFarland said. "It's really nice."

McFarland's goal is to educate the community about craniosynostosis. She started with her son's tennis team by telling them about Kaiya's story. The team members responded well by asking questions and trying to learn more, she said.

"They were really interested and invested in doing this," Balaz said. "It's brought everybody closer together by doing this, by having this goal outside of tennis."

Balaz said he hopes the collection teaches his team more about humanity and community.

"One of the goals I had was to open their eyes," he said. "It has allowed the boys to see that there is more to somebody than just what they see at practice and at school."

The team is collecting snacks, baby socks, travel-sized toiletries, journals, pain relievers for adults, baby books, toys and blankets.

Donations can be dropped off at Big Walnut High School or given to team members at practices and matches.

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