The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

July 11, 2012

Neosho native Courtney Wood gives back to home community

JOPLIN, Mo. — It’s lunchtime. As a long line of children clutching their lunch trays files past Courtney Wood, she hands a white, plastic fork to each of them.

The scene is similar during breakfast at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Missouri, where children who need a place to go during the day can get a bite to eat, play educational games and pal around with a distance runner from the University of Missouri who grew up in Neosho.

“I love it. It’s so much fun,” said Wood, who placed sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Big 12 Conference outdoor meet. “They’re crazy active, a handful, but so much fun.”

Wood was assigned to mentor a group of second graders by executive director Rhonda Graham, who attends Racine Christian Church along with Wood. “It sounded like an awesome job,” Wood said.

Some of the children live in the trailer park set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency near the Joplin Regional Airport, but not all were displaced by the tornado that struck Joplin on May 22, 2011.

“They’re from any walk of life,” Wood said. “You can’t tell which are which once they’re here. I normally work with a second-grade group. We do activities, crafts, that kind of stuff.”

Wood’s character and background made her an easy choice for the position, said Graham, who oversees the club’s physical and educational activities.

“This day and age is a lot different, with our professional athletes especially,” she said. “A lot of them claim they are not role models. It’s nice to have a local girl who steps up and wants to be a role model for kids.

“We have a number of kids who were affected by the tornado. Some live in the FEMA trailers, some have relocated. To have the Boys and Girls Club to go to and have these athletes work out with them, it gives them goals that someday they could do that, too.”

Funding for the Boys and Girls Club comes primarily from the community, from charitable organizations such as the United Way and from corporate sponsors. “We don’t get any government money,” she said.

Even so, it’s always welcome when a donor unloads supplies such as bottled sports drinks from the cargo compartment of a bus, as the St. Louis Rams did during a recent visit to Joplin.

“The Rams came and we have tons of volunteers all the time,” Wood said. “We could always use more.

“Anybody who comes and wants to hang out with the kids, they just love it. Kids will like anybody who wants to be with them.”

Wood qualified for all-state honors three times each at Neosho High School in the 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and 4x800-meter relay. She was all-state three times in cross country.

At Missouri last fall, she placed third at the season-opening Saluki Early Bird on Sept. 2 and was 32nd at the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 13. She was redshirted for the indoor track season.

During outdoor competition last spring, Wood’s highlights included her showing at the Big 12 Conference meet and a second-place finish in the 1,500 meters among unseeded college runners at the KU Relays.

This fall, she will face a new set of competitors when Missouri makes the move to the Southeastern Conference. “Going different places is always fun,” she said. “It’s really fun going to bigger meets farther away.”

In the meantime, Wood, who is majoring in biochemistry with thoughts of entering dental school, has made dozens of new friends this summer. “I get paid to play with kids all day,” she said. “I love it.”

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