Tomorrow is a day to be thankful. Today, I am thankful that The Examiner gives me this space to share with you my thoughts about law and life.

Tomorrow is a day to be thankful. Today, I am thankful that The Examiner gives me this space to share with you my thoughts about law and life.

I met Stephanie Soendker in 2007, shortly after I formed Bears Tomorrow, Inc. (a nonprofit organization) when she was in sixth grade. She loved to play basketball and she came to a clinic sponsored by Bears Tomorrow to learn how to become a better basketball player.

Stephanie immediately drew my attention, not because she was the best player in the gym, but because of her intensity. She gave full effort to every drill and was a model citizen throughout the clinics. She had just finished playing in the Independence recreational league with several girls she had played with since 4th grade, and we decided to form a team so she and others could have an opportunity to continue playing. It was a struggle initially as it took time for the girls to trust me and for me to become familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, but it was always a joy coaching Stephanie. She was a natural leader and never gave me a moment of trouble. She was mature beyond her years.

Our coach player relationship continued into her seventh grade season. A goal of Bears Tomorrow was to prepare girls and boys for high school athletics, but another goal was to help prepare leaders. Our thought in forming Bears Tomorrow was that athletes should be leaders, but they needed to be taught how to be leaders. Stephanie was a devoted disciple and a quick learner.

The team began to mature and wins became easier as the girls became more comfortable with me and me with them. I was having fun and so were they. Yet, the fun vanished one day as we were in the middle of a game and Stephanie went to the floor like a ton of bricks. It was not unusual to see Stephanie on the floor as I had encouraged players to always chase a loose ball on the floor. Stephanie was a classic floor polisher, always diving for loose balls.

Yet, this time was different, because she did not quickly pop up as she had done on many occasions before. A sick feeling came into my stomach as she lay there in pain. She had torn a ligament in her knee and was going to need surgery on her knee. Stephanie tried to play basketball again, but her short career ended that day. The girl who had more passion for the game than anyone I had ever coached and who wanted so badly to become a great player was to play no more.

Stephanie is now a sophomore at William Chrisman. She is straight A student and plays tennis now. I occasionally see Stephanie at a football game as her brother, William, played for the Bears. She has the rare ability to make you smile.

Last summer, I encountered Stephanie again. She called me on a Saturday night about 9 p.m. It was an odd call as she did not identify herself and the only way that I knew it was her was the caller ID. She acted like she didn’t know me and she informed me the purpose of her call was to interview me on behalf of the Truman Heartland Community Foundation as I had applied for a grant from THCF on behalf of Bears Tomorrow. She and other students on the call asked me a lot of questions and I tried to answer all of them.

I later learned that Stephanie was on the Youth Leadership Council of THCF and was interviewing me in her official capacity. I also learned that the THCF delegated this important responsibility to its Youth Leadership Council. THCF is in the youth leadership building business also.

About a month ago, I received a letter in the mail informing me that Bears Tomorrow was going to receive a grant from THCF. I attended a luncheon a couple of weeks ago when the grant recipients were recognized and Stephanie was present. I learned that day that Stephanie had “gone to bat” for Bears Tomorrow, explaining to those in the decision-making process that Bears Tomorrow was much more than a sports club. Our goal is to make better student-athletes and she knew that because she is one. We can’t take credit for Stephanie’s qualities. She has two wonderful parents and she had leadership in her genes when I first encountered her. Yet, she understood what Bears Tomorrow was all about and she wanted decision makers to know that we were helping others.

Stephanie is a beautiful young lady and even though she can’t play basketball anymore, she has other mountains to climb in her life. I have no doubt that Stephanie will be a huge success in whatever she does. I hope in some small way that her experience with us has motivated her to give herself to her community. She is already showing signs of that with her great work with THCF.

Everyone who knows me knows I have great love and passion for the kids at Chrisman. Stephanie is just one of my heroes, because she wants to do the right thing and do it well. Like so many kids at Chrisman, she encountered an obstacle and left it in her rear view mirror.

 This column doesn’t have much to do with the law, but maybe it does after all. We have these wonderful organizations called not-for-profit corporations. Politicians are talking about reforming our tax code, but I hope they leave the charitable organizations alone so that our contributions are deductible. We have lots of ways to decrease the federal deficit, but charitable contributions are the backbone of America. As government shrinks, and I hope it does, the role that Truman Heartland Community Foundation and organizations like Bears Tomorrow will play will become increasingly important.

Just ask Stephanie.