SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — At Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, athletics extend far beyond competition. A group of driven seniors is displaying this through thoughtful voluntary work to benefit children who love sports, but struggle to afford them.

Through an organization called Play It Forward, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS) DECA club students Aaron Schack, Paige McMorrow and Molly Pritchett are collecting sports equipment to give to impoverished, needy children in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. Aiming to provide gear to the children — many of whom can’t afford it — the group will be collecting donations beginning Saturday, Oct. 28, at the SPFHS Homecoming football game and continuing at the "Mr. Spiffy High" competition in December.

“It’s important to really have a global perspective on things and realize we’re not the only ones out there. People in the world don’t have it as great as us here,” Schack, Vice President of Community Service for DECA, told “Everyone should have the opportunity to play and enjoy sports just like us. Physical exercise and the love of sports of their choice are important, especially for kids growing up — it’s a big part of a children’s life playing sports on teams. If they can have the same opportunity as us, that wouldd be ideal.”

Sign Up for E-News

In the short-term, the group is asking for donations that involve any type of gently-used athletic equipment — from baseball gloves to soccer balls, and everything in between. They hope that the initial success from the collection blossoms into a continued tradition at the school — a tradition that keeps on making other’s lives easier, while also instilling in SPFHS students the values of giving back.

However, to begin collecting sizable donations that will enrich the lives of children who need it most, the group needs help with spreading the word. Increased attendance at both the Homecoming game on Saturday and Mr. Spiffy High in December will go lengths in enhancing total collections.

“We have to make sure a lot of people come out, and spreading the word will be difficult,” said Schack. “If we get the word out and get a lot of donations, we’ll overall be successful, and I think Mr. Spiffy High will give us the platform — as well as homecoming — to be successful.”

The three student leaders running the initiative are all heavily involved in varsity athletics at SPFHS: Schack is the starting goalie on the soccer team, McMorrow is a cheerleader, and Pritchett swims. Part of playing sports means being a positive influence to society, and Schack recently witnessed this first hand.

The goalkeeper was moved after seeing the unfortunate situation of many children when the soccer team took a trip to Costa Rica prior to the 2016 season. Upon seeing the living conditions that the children there endure, he wanted to do what he could to help. Given that soccer is the pastime of many children in both countries, and Schack excels at the sport here in the U.S., working with Play It Forward seemed like a slam-dunk.

“When we went to Costa Rica, a big part of the trip was not just soccer — it was spending time in the community and giving back,” said the senior. “A lot of these children didn’t grow up with father figures, and us being role models to them as a team from the United States, they look at us as superstars and that’s a great feeling. Their lives aren’t that great everyday; they struggle with poverty and lack of family.”

Schack, McMorrow and Pritchett actively work on this project through the DECA club at the high school. DECA “provides students with the experience for a better understanding of the business world with field trips, community involvement, and statewide and national competitions in the field of marketing”. The club and project is overseen by Marjorie Fitzgibbon, a business teacher at the school.

Play It Forward is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization based in Westchester, N.Y. The organization’s mission is to “help charitable youth organizations and individuals in need to obtain the gear necessary to play the sports they love.” It has collected over 45,273 pieces of equipment, but that number is sure to grow with help from the Scotch Plains-Fanwood community.