Members of the Darby High School lacrosse team are expected to practice every day to keep their skills sharp, but Rob Schmeling also has other requirements.
"What we do off the field says a lot about our character and that is just as important as what we do on the field," said Schmeling, who this year completed his fifth season as head coach of Darby's lacrosse team.
Each of the team's 40 members is required to perform 250 hours of community service during the course of the season.
It's part of a program Schmeling implements to build his players' character and camaraderie, as well as prepare them for college, both as students and possible athletes.
It's a program Schmeling calls "Lax Back." The first word is an abbreviation of the word lacrosse and the phrase is intended to mean "lacrosse gives back."
"Our community service is truly an opportunity for them to develop their character and learn more about the world around them," Schmeling said. "I think they get as much out of it, maybe more, than the people they are helping."
Susan Yeager, whose son, senior Christopher Yeager, is a co-captain of the team, believes the program does just that.
"Coach Rob sees them as athletes, students, and individuals," she said.
This year, members of the Darby lacrosse team donated their time and efforts to three central Ohio service projects: Habitat for Humanity, the Ronald McDonald House and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
"Participating in these activities and helping the community showed me, all of us I think, that there is something bigger than ourselves," Christopher Yeager said. "It made us ever closer as a team, too."
Darby players challenged the lacrosse teams at Bradley and Davidson high schools to exceed their own donations of items and money for the Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging to the families of critically and terminally ill children at hospitals.
In all, the teams contributed more than $500 in cash and gathered more than 800 items to donate, Yeager said.
On April 12, Darby lacrosse players participated in the MS Walk at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Forty-one walkers raised approximately $1,500 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The MS walk had significant meaning to the team as the wife of an assistant coach recently was diagnosed with MS, Schmeling said.
Students and coaches also raised money for Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds or repairs residences for low-income families.
"These players will look back at these experiences many years from now," Schmeling said. "Besides the games, they will say, 'Remember when we helped those people,' and I want that experience to be a part of their athletic experience."
Many colleges and universities, Schmeling said, consider not only a student's athletic and academic accomplishments, but also what they do in the community.
"The community service students do is a key component to their marketability (and) I think makes them even better prepared for college," he said.