Team USA athletes pose with students from Agoura Hills as part of a Team USA for Tomorrow event on Dec. 17, 2018 in Agoura Hills, Calif.
AGOURA HILLS, Calif. -- In true Team USA spirit, four Olympic medalists and four Olympic hopefuls took the time this week to grant a big surprise to hundreds of students at Yerba Buena Elementary School and the baseball and softball teams of Agoura High School as a part of the United States Olympic Committee’s Team USA for Tomorrow program.
A month prior, devastation struck Agoura Hills and its surroundings of both Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The Woolsey Fire scorched through almost 100,000 acres of land and forced the evacuation of close to 300,000 people. At both Yerba Buena Elementary and Agoura Hills High, it was estimated that 95 percent of the families had to be evacuated, more than 100 families were left homeless and over 200 students are still out of their homes.
A senior on the Agoura High baseball team, Ben Lake, kept a positive outlook on the devastation that rocked the community.
“For us it was one of our younger kids, who actually lost his house,” he said. “He’s on JV; he’s a really cool kid, really nice. You know, it sucks, but it’s really cool to have everyone come together to help him out and bring the community together.”
With the elementary school students seated in rows in their assembly room, the Olympians brought their Olympic spirit, walking in high-fiving and fist bumping with the kids. The students weren’t quite clear what was unfolding at first, but upon the guidance from their principal, they all soon found out they were in the presence of Olympic royalty.
Two-time Olympic halfpipe skiing champion David Wise kicked off the assembly, himself a 2018 Athlete Ambassador with the Team for Tomorrow program, which provides U.S. athletes with opportunities to come together to give back to their local communities, and offer their assistance and support to those in need. Wise hoped to relate and empathize with the students and staff members of the school.
“[Right before the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018] I had just come through the three hardest years of my life. I had so many tough things going on around me, just like you guys had recently,” Wise said. “But I got through those things, and rather than reacting to those difficult circumstances of bitterness, I said, ‘OK, those were hard ... but how you react to those hard times is just so important.’”
He concluded his story by pulling out his gold medal, to the “oohs and aahs” of the excited students.
Today we give back to the community affected by the Woolsey Fire. As @mrDavidWise said, we can’t let obstacles get in the way of what’s important to us— Danielle O’Toole (@Oh_tooly3) December 18, 2018
So happy i met other team USA athletes today & was able to bring some happiness to YBElementary and Agoura High.
GO USA 🇺🇸 https://t.co/yF7dUpZbvh
Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, was next in addressing the crowd and gave a brief recap of how he got into the sport. Burroughs mentioned how wrestling and some of the other Olympic sports were seen as secondary, compared with mainstream sports, but passion and support from family and friends helped drive Burroughs to become a four-time world champion . He told the students that with hard work, determination and a dream, they could very well be in his shoes someday.
The sibling ice dance partners and two-time Olympic bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani rounded out the Olympian participants. They were joined by Olympic hopefuls Janie Reed, Delaney Spaulding, Sahvanna Jaquish and Danielle O’Toole, who are all members of the U.S. softball team, which became the first team from any nation and any sport to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will mark their sport’s Olympic return. The eight elite athletes painted a picture of the depth and character of Team USA, traveling from all corners of the country to lend some support and enthusiasm to the next generation.
The holiday season came early for the kids, as the athletes and some staff passed out Team USA swag, including stickers and t-shirts. With the joy and energy mounting, the elementary school kids were then led by Alex Shibutani through stretches and exercises. From elbow touches to jumping jacks, the elementary school kids, the high school athletes and the Olympians bonded amongst all the turmoil that had taken place the past month. The Assembly concluded with chants of “U-S-A!” and cheers for Yerba Buena, along with high fives and lots of smiles.
The talk of bonding and coming together was the constant theme throughout the event, but Alex Shibutani didn’t see it as only the Olympians inspiring the kids; he saw it coming from within the community.
“Especially for the elementary school students at Yerba Buena, many of the Agoura athletes attended this school,” Shibutani said. “And so, the fact that yes, while there were Olympic athletes that were here today, you have role models in your own community that you can look up to, and so I think it was really special to bring those groups together.”
As both the baseball and softball teams of Agoura were preparing for their respective seasons to commence, the Woolsey Fire completely eradicated the school’s sports shed, which included all of the teams’ apparel from helmets to on-field baseball equipment. Nearly everything, including the fields, was destroyed in the fire.
As the high school athletes were walking back to their school bus, they were shocked to see a new assortment of baseball and softball apparel. Freshly woven mitts, batting tees and a new pitching screen were among the things that Agoura High received on behalf of Team USA.
Softball player Hannah August spoke for most of her teammates as she said, “It means the world to us because it’s (these athletes who) we look up to, and they’re donating to us and supporting us, so it’s a great way to come through (this tragedy) and come out of it.”
The Team USA athletes and high schoolers opened the gifts together, and the young athletes tried on the new gear and tested out the equipment. Selfies and photos continued even as a light rain began to fall.
When asked what Team for Tomorrow and the day’s activities are all about, Alex Shibutani summarized it best.
“It was really about what we could bring today,” he said. “But as a result of seeing so many smiling faces, given all the hardships that this community has undergone in the past several months, it was really heartwarming. It was a reminder that sport has the ability to bring people from all walks of life together.”