By Bill Althaus

It didn't take Grain Valley freshman Claire Rose long to get into the Christmas spirit. The Eagles point guard was on her first shopping spree, where coach Randy Draper and his staff take the squad to Target in Blue Springs, to shop for a local family whose needs were provided by the Grain Valley Assistance Council. The girls pool their own money and walk through the store buying presents - all the while knowing that they have to stay within a certain budget. “I've never felt the Christmas spirit like I do today,” Rose said. “Since I'm a freshman, this is my first time do something like this. I want to go out and ring a Salvation Army bell - maybe we could get one at the high school. I just want to help as many people as I can, and not just at Christmas.” Those words were holiday music to Draper's ears, who believes his squad receives much more than the family in need. “The girls are learning something from this, and they're having such a good time they don't even realize it,” said Draper, who has taken his teams Christmas shopping the past three years. “This is a win/win situation. “We're helping a family in our own community, the girls are bonding because we put the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors in groups so they don't just all go out with their friends, and you come away from this feeling good. “I mean, we all feel really, really good.” The genesis of the idea came when Draper thought about helping a family in Grain Valley and he began talking to Megdalynn Fogt, whose father worked at Target. “My dad's at another store but I still work here,” said Fogt, who not only helped pick out gifts, but also assisted a few Target customers during the shopping trip. “It's just the greatest charity idea ever. We love and it and we all look forward to it.” Draper said many girls, past and present, tell him it is the highlight of their basketball days at Grain Valley High School. “That's when you know you're making an impact,” Draper said, “when they talk about the way it impacted their lives. And that's what we want to do.” Another Eagles player who works at Target echoed Fogt's comments. “The atmosphere at these shopping trips is so special,” said junior Courtney Sibert. “It's so cool because we have someone who keeps track of all the prices, and we might pick a shirt or hat and find a better price and go with that item. “And Target is amazing. Did you know they gave us a $50 gift card?” And the store does not charge any tax on the items and also gives the school a 10 percent discount. “As far as I know, Coach Draper's team is the only one that comes to our store and does something like this,” Target executive team leader Megan Burley said. “And we love working with Coach Draper and the girls. It's fun to watch them, because they have so much fun and show so much heart. “No one likes to think of someone going without a present during the holidays, and the coach and his players are doing something so special, it just makes you feel good.” Senior Kali Carson has been a part of each shopping excursion and said they make her Christmas complete. “It's not Christmas without the trip to Target with Draper and my girls,” she said, grinning. “We lost yesterday, and that loss really bothered me. But it's not even on my brain now. All I'm thinking about is how we can get the most stuff, for the lowest price so we can fill some shopping carts up for that family.” As the girls converge at the checkout stand, Draper walks up an aisle carrying a colorful toy basketball. “I thought we'd add this,” he said, digging into his wallet to pick out a $5 bill. “You never know, sometime down the road, this might pay some dividends for the ol' coach.” The girls laughed and nodded in agreement. Like he said, “A win/win situation.”