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
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The little boy with the hole in his shoe curled up on Carlee Roethlisberger's lap and fell asleep.

Nothing inside the church woke him. Not the Haitian heat. Not the Creole singing. Even though he'd stir every now and again, he'd always snuggle back into the basketball player's arms.

A week after Roethlisberger and her Oklahoma teammates returned from a mission trip to Haiti, that is the face etched in her memory.

"Those kids, they don't have anything,” she said. "To know that he could find comfort in that church with me, that he could rest and wake up around his friends, was really cool.

"It was the neatest thing.”

So was their trip.

Less than two months removed from playing in the Women's Final Four, the Sooners ventured to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a place that was further decimated by January's earthquake. They saw devastation. They saw despair. They saw desperation.

But they also saw hope and love and faith.

Now, the Final Four isn't the only place these Sooners want to return to next year.

They want to go back to Haiti, too.

"People there do want to change the country,” point guard Danielle Robinson said. "They don't want to live in that type of poverty. Then again, they need help.”

The genesis of the trip to Haiti was a visit from an old friend. Adam Barnett, a former male practice player on the team, stopped by practice one day last fall. Now the College Missions Director at Journey Church, he was looking for items for a fundraiser.

The beneficiary: the Mission of Hope.

Barnett told Sooner assistant Jan Ross about the Haitian ministry that includes an orphanage, a school, a church and a medical clinic. He'd been on a mission trip there.

"You know,” she told him, "I've always wanted to do something like that.”

Ross started asking around to see if anyone would even be interested in a mission trip to Haiti.

About two dozen players, assistant coaches and support staff wanted to go. Sooner coach Sherri Coale wasn't part of the group; job duties kept her from making the trip.

Plans started to be made. Funds began to be raised.

Then, the earthquake hit.

The massive January tremor devastated Port-au-Prince and much of the surrounding area. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Millions were left homeless.

The Sooners wondered if their mission trip would be canceled. How would they travel? Where would they stay? Would they be safe?

"All that's in the back of your mind,” Robinson said. "But at the same time, you know they still need help.”

The Mission of Hope is less than 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince, but it was spared devastation. Because of the social services that it offers, it became a hub of activity for people who needed medical attention, food and supplies.

It needed outside volunteers more than ever.

Finals at OU ended on May 14.

The Sooners left for Haiti on May 15.

Even though they had been meeting weekly in preparation for the trip, nothing readied them for what they saw when they landed in Port-au-Prince. People packed the streets begging for money and food. Tents appeared in every open space. UN tanks patrolled the streets.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
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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