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By Ryan Schulz
With finals looming on the horizon, Vanderbilt’s student-athletes took a break from their studying on Friday to spread the cheer of the holidays to first graders at Ross Elementary in East Nashville.
From 11 a.m. to noon, Vanderbilt’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted its annual holiday party for the local first graders in Vanderbilt’s basketball practice gym.
Shortly after the children arrived, they were greeted in the center of the gym by Santa Claus and an elf, which proceeded to read `Twas The Night Before Christmas.
“It’s a great experience,” said defensive tackle Adam Smotherman, who played Santa Claus for the third straight year. “To see the kids’ faces, there is nothing better.”
When the book was finished, Santa Claus and his elf presented each child with a bag of gifts that they opened with members of each Vanderbilt team they were assigned to. The student-athletes from each team spent the remaining time putting together gifts for the children, playing games with them and eating pizza together.
“A lot of these kids depend on gifts from outside agencies or donations at events like this,” said Cynthia Jones, a first grade teacher at Ross Elementary School, who has been bringing her class to the holiday party for approximately 10 years. “The kids get excited. Just the excitement of getting on the bus and coming somewhere they’d never been before is something they enjoy.”
Joining Smotherman in costume was fellow defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone, who dressed as Santa’s elf for the second year in a row. For Greenstone, the experience is something he looks forward to each year.
“My favorite part is when you go up to a kid and start talking to them, and you see the big smile on their face,” Greenstone said. “You can’t help but smile because it just radiates the room. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Smotherman shared much of the same feelings as Greenstone.
“Christmas is all about making kids happy. It just warms my heart to be able to give these kids some cool presents to be able to play with and give them time to hang out with the student-athletes, it’s just a great feeling.”