The holidays are a time for giving and being with family and local high school athletic teams are no exception.

And while the Ridgeland Lady Panthers will get back on the court together the day after Christmas in the Medi-Thrift Pharmacy Christmas Classic at LaFayette High School, they will spend the day before Christmas together helping those a little less fortunate.

The team will spend part of Dec. 24 wrapping gifts before delivering them to three “adopted” families from Rossville’s Stone Creek Elementary School.

Head coach Matt King said this is the fourth year his players have participated in a holiday service project.

“We used to just have a Christmas party for ourselves, but four years ago we decided to do something different,” he explained. “The first year, we did a widow ministry where we would rake leaves, do housework, and then just sit with the women, talk and visit.

“Last year, we adopted some families at Rossville Middle School bought and delivered presents, and this year one of our parents got in touch with the people at Stone Creek to help us set things up. The majority of the gifts and the work are done by our players, but we have some other people in the community helping us out with donations. It’s getting bigger every year, which is really neat to see.”

“We started with this idea to help a couple of families and now it’s grown into this huge thing with all these presents for all these kids,” said Kaelan Byrd. “It feels great to give those kids the Christmas they deserve.

“We’re helping to bring the community together too. It’s a little hectic, with two hours of wrapping gifts and running around and figuring out what present should go with what kid, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

King said the players, who have spent the past few weeks collecting gifts, will meet at the school’s gym on the morning of Christmas Eve to wrap all the gifts before heading out to make their deliveries.

“We don’t stay too long at each place, but we’ll introduce ourselves and explain to the people that this is something we wanted to do,” he said. “Then we’ll put the gifts under the tree and head on to the next stop. Afterward, we’ll get back to the gym and talk about the day and what it means.

“The girls get excited about it, and I get excited watching them enjoy it so much. There are a lot of benefits to it. It’s get them out into the community and makes them aware of what is going on around them, and it gets the community more aware of what’s going on at Ridgeland.”

Katy Phillips called it “an awesome experience”.

“Last year was very fulfilling for me, personally, to help other families who needed it,” she said. “We’re all really excited about doing it again. It puts what we have in perspective. We have a sense of family and it helps us bond as a team to buy things for others and working together.”

King said while the project does help his team bond off the court, he said there are bigger reasons why the project is meaningful.

“Bonding as a team isn’t the main reason we do this,” he added. “It’s to show teenagers that there are people out there who are struggling, and that there are people out there right around the corner who don’t have a whole lot. It’s a time for self-evaluation and reflection and an appreciation of what they have. The world really is a bigger place than they realize and they don’t have to go another country to find people in need.”