LITHIA — The Newsome girls soccer team is off to a torrid start, beginning the season a perfect 17-0 entering tonight's game at Armwood.
The nationally ranked Wolves have been superb on the attacking end, stout defensively and suffocating through the midfield.
Yet with all the goals and the ballooning wins, Newsome's finest assist this year came off the field.
The Wolves donated time and gifts to the less fortunate through Angel Tree during the winter break. The program is run by Ministry of Hope, a Lithia nonprofit group that assists families with food, clothing and appliances throughout the year and especially during the holidays.
"We wanted to find something that the girls could participate in as a group and give something back to this community," Newsome coach Kelly Townsend said. "The girls chose this and just ran with it."
The Angel Tree at the Sweetbay on FishHawk Boulevard was adorned with angels made of construction paper. Names of needy area families were written on the angels, in hopes that store customers of would help out in any way possible.
"It had how many children, if any, the families had and their clothing sizes on the angels," said Diana Fehling, a team mom who helped organize the donations. "Some were women who had recently become widows. One family had just lost their father to cancer."
Townsend liked the idea and hoped "three or four" girls would participate. Fehling said she "would have been happy if 10 or so got involved."
Defender Jackie Simpson said she picked a family with a girl because "I felt I could relate to her."
"It felt good to help families from around here that aren't as fortunate as us," she added.
The team's gifts ranged from children's walkers, high chairs and DVDs to food and clothing. Jackie said the number of players who participated didn't surprise her, but the generosity did.
"There were everything from baby gifts to bicycles," she said. "It was pretty cool."
The team gathered at Lindsay Milligan's house and wrapped the gifts. A few days before Christmas, the Wolves took the presents to the Ministry of Hope.
"It took three full carloads," Fehling, whose daughter Teena is the Wolves' goalkeeper, said. "And I mean packed in the front, back and trunk."
Ministry of Hope founder Janeen Long said the girls' kindness left an impression. She also hopes they learned a lesson.
"It teaches them while they're young to care about others so when they grow up they will know to care about others," Long said. "Unless you learn that when you're young, you can't comprehend that we have people out there living in trailers with no windows in them."
Newsome, which returns to action this week after winning the Sarasota Holiday Classic over the break, is poised to make a run at the state title when district play begins Jan. 18. Yet their assist off the field stands out most to Townsend.
"Honestly, what they did is the thing I'm most proud of them for this year," she said. "Hopefully we an make it an annual thing."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.