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Tina Charles and Safe Kids Worldwide Teach Student Athletes to Play it Smart

By Gabriel Katz

For WNBA All-Star Tina Charles, speaking to youth about the importance of sports safety and knowledge of first aid techniques is great. But even greater, however, would be to show them.

Charles did just that in early March, when she joined Safe Kids Worldwide for their Safe Kids’ Sports Safety Clinic held in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The event, which was the second clinic featuring Charles was first launched by Safe Kids five years ago. The partnership between the current member of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun and Safe Kids began last year when the two hosted a clinic in Harlem, New York, just across the river from Charles’ native borough of Queens. The Pembroke Pines event brought out approximately 100 young athletes ranging from ages 14 to 18, along with their coaches and parents and consisted of various techniques used to teach and enforce the message of safety.

“[The clinics] are able to enlighten the student athletes on sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), [and] that is indiscriminate to race, age, and gender” Charles said in an email following the event. “The participants at this event and future events will leave having knowledge on how to perform CPR and use an AED if and when SCA occurs. Eighty percent of the time SCA occurs, the victim is saved by a bystander.”

 

Charles labeled the event a success, as did Torine Creppy, Chief Program Officer for Safe Kids Worldwide. Creppy said that the clinics evolved from workshops originally geared toward coaches and parents to the current format made up of the all-inclusive activities. Participants learned from physicians in areas such as hydration and injury prevention, but most popular, said Creppy was the event’s concussion station. This instruction required the students to put on “concussion goggles” and experience the blurriness that can come with such an injury. It was of course finished off with the completion of an obstacle course.

Concussions may have been on the brains of those partaking in the Safe Kids event, but notable in Creppy’s mind and heavy in Charles’ heart was the station which provided education on the use of automated external defibrillators. The main reason that the station existed at all, the origin of Charles’ motivation, and even the date of the day’s clinic was all with the focus of Maureen “Hopey” Vaz. Vaz, was the aunt of Charles who passed away on March 9, 2013 from multiple organ failure. This resulted in Charles beginning the Hopey’s Heart Foundation, mirroring her aunt’s giving heart both figuratively by attempting to keep kids in good physical shape and literally by providing AED devices to schools and institutions around the country.

 

Creppy said that when Safe Kids was contacted by a representative of Charles about partnering for the clinics they were eager to add the AED component to their program. “I will say that it was because of Tina that we added that extra layer of safety and protection with us including AED and sudden cardiac arrest part of our key messaging now,” Creppy said. “I would say that she takes on this cause not because of her status as a WNBA player, but because this is near and dear to her.”

Creppy explained that one of Charles’ key messages during the clinic was that while she could have started a charity focused on any number of important causes, she chose to focus on something she was unable to be educated on as a child. And just as Charles hoped to educate students, Creppy learned just how important Safe Kids’ partnership with the women’s basketball star truly has become.

“What we found really truth-telling for us is when kids were saying they had never even seen an AED,” said Creppy. “They didn’t even know if their school has one, they didn’t even know if their trainer has one.”

Creppy, who has been with Safe Kids Worldwide for the past 15 years said as much as she valued the instruction given out by the licensed educators at the clinic, she was equally impressed with the hands-on impact Charles had with the youth in attendance. This even included her six-year-old son, who Creppy said beamed with excitement at the chance to take a photo with Charles and also to school her on dribbling the basketball between her legs.

Aside from learning new tricks, Charles was giving out lessons during the climax of the day, a three-point shooting contest. Each of the six contestants took passes from Charles herself, and the young girl who won was at a loss for words, Creppy said.

“She told me, ‘I think I probably came out of the womb dreaming about somebody like Tina Charles and never in my life did I think I was going to be able to touch her. Never did I think she she’d be just so natural and real with us.’”

The event concluded with photo “selfies” taken by Charles and her new biggest fans, and a donation by Hopey’s Heart Foundation of an AED to the host location Charles W. Flanagan High School. The donation put Charles about halfway to her goal of distributing 100 of the devices by year’s end. At the start of last year’s WNBA season, she pledged to donate one unit for every double-double she recorded on the court.

 

Through her foundation, Charles organizes a grant program through which schools and organizations can apply for an AED, usually donated straight from the charity. After this event, however, Hopey’s Heart was on the receiving end of things. Safe Kids Worldwide and another partner, HeartSmart, gave the foundation the remaining 47 devices needed to meet their goal.

 

Creppy said she hopes to grow the clinics, and is already anticipating the next partnership with Charles and a couple other professional teams. In their quest to diminish preventable injuries among children, Safe Kids quotes a statistic that states there has been a 55 percent decrease in the unintentional injury rate among children age 19 and younger since the inception of their organization in 1988. Creppy insists that no particular organization can take total credit, but rather all groups such as Safe Kids and advocates such as Charles should share ownership.

“We want kids to play,” said Creppy. “We want kids to get out there and have fun, but we want them to be safe while they are doing it. We want to be able to be a voice within the community and we’ve been given an opportunity to have athletes like Tina Charles to help us be able to spread the importance of safety.”

Gabe Katz

A journalism enthusiast – sports media in particular – Gabe has interviewed Super Bowl champions Raheem Brock and Chris Canty, and rising star Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey. He’s covered organizations and events affiliated with the NY Rangers, NY Knicks, and NBA Cares. He has also written articles featuring NY Yankees’ Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia, Tina Charles (WNBA), Deron William’s Point of Hope Foundation (NBA), and the foundations of Torrey Smith and Ryan Kerrigan (NFL). After graduating from Temple University where he received a degree in communications, he had two subsequent positions in news, first as an online editor and contributor for a Philadelphia sports web site start-up and later as a multimedia content provider at a newspaper in the Philadelphia suburbs. He now lives in New York as a freelance journalist and remains an avid sports fan.

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