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Sooner women's basketball team find hope, faith alive in Haiti

by Jenni Carlson Modified: May 29, 2010 at 12:02 am •  Published: May 29, 2010
/articleid/3464700/1/pictures/963396">Photo - UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA / WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAM / HAITI TRIP: The OU women's bsketball team trip to Haiti. Provided ORG XMIT: KOD
Buildings large and small lay in ruins.

The massive dome of the Presidential Palace was still crumbled on the same spot where it had slid to the ground.

"It's the best that they have,” Roethlisberger said, "and it's gone.”

Those images were fresh in the Sooners' minds when they arrived at the Mission of Hope for church the next morning. The open-air sanctuary overflowed with nearly a thousand people, men and women who lived in extreme poverty, boys and girls who faced an uncertain future after the earthquake.

But when the service started, there were no hints of hopelessness, no signs of sorrow. Instead, there was praise. There was hope. There was joy.

"They had this faith that God would help them through,” Roethlisberger said.

That morning left an impression on the Sooners, and it showed the rest of the week. No matter what they were doing at the mission — sorting unopened boxes of medical supplies, doing construction on a new guest house, helping in the nursery, playing with the children, practicing with the school's basketball team or talking to some of the high school classes — they worked with excitement and enthusiasm.

Joanna McFarland, for example, is usually quiet and reserved when she's around new people. But when she played with the kids in Haiti, she laughed and smiled and treated them like siblings.

"Every person, you saw a different piece of them stick out, a different part of their strengths,” Roethlisberger said. "That was really fun to see.”

Robinson said, "We saw each other grow in more ways in Haiti than we might've seen all season.”

This is a team that was already close.

"It's just brought us closer,” guard Jasmine Hartman said.

That's another reason why the Sooners are already talking about going back to Haiti. They want to return to the Mission of Hope. They want to continue the work there next summer.

Ross wants to give the players a little time before they make a final decision. She knows that there could be an opportunity to do mission work in Liberia, where former player Shannon Selmon has strong connections, but the Sooner assistant coach also knows that time might do little to change the players' feelings about Haiti.

"I just think they're gonna want to go back to Haiti,” Ross said. "It doesn't take long for them to get connected.”

Roethlisberger said: "This time, we went and we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. We didn't know anybody. Next time, we can go back to a face that we know, to a face that we're familiar with.”

There's one face in particular that Roethlisberger would like to see again — that little boy who curled up and slept in her arms. She looked for him all week. She had brought several pairs of shoes to Haiti, and she wanted to give one to him.

People told her that he wasn't a student at the school or one of the kids in the orphanage.

Roethlisberger never saw him again.

Still, she can't forget the little boy with the hole in his shoe.

"He wouldn't let go,” she said.

These Sooners don't want to either.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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