TJ hoopsters bond during holiday toy collection |
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The TJ girls basketball team participated in the Toys for Tots collection through the Larry Ross Allstate Insurance Agency in Pleasant Hills.

The Thomas Jefferson girls basketball team has a new look.

Lisa Fairman has taken over as head coach, and one of the players in the starting lineup is junior Dalaney Ranallo, who did not compete in basketball last season.

Ranallo, at 5-foot-11 is the tallest player on the team and was instrumental in helping the Jaguars launch the 2018-19 season in a positive way.

Not only did the TJ girls defeat Woodland Hills, 74-40, in their first game, they tipped things off by participating locally in the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation program.

Ranallo, along with Fairman and assistant coaches Skylar Meier and Ed Manfredi, organized the team’s participation through the Larry Ross Allstate Insurance Agency in Pleasant Hills.

“Each girl on the team kindly purchased an unwrapped gift and donated it. It was an amazing team effort to give back to the people in our community,” said Ranallo, who has made a verbal commitment to continue her soccer career at Old Dominion.

This is the second year Ross and Allstate agency owners throughout the Northeast are partnering with Toys for Tots to collect donations for area children.

More than 200 donations had been collected by early December, thanks to Ross’s partnership with community groups such as the TJ girls basketball team.

“The idea was brought to my attention through the Ranallo family, which has been a part of the Toys for Tots program with Larry Ross in previous years,” Fairman said. “All of the coaches and players came together as a team.

“It was so wonderful to see kids in the community helping others. This is something we will do every year and would like to get other teams involved in the future.”

TJ’s hoopsters made their donation of toys, ranging from stuffed animals to board games, on Dec. 6.

“All the coaches had to do was mention it and our team jumped on the idea,” said Meier. “The idea was brought to us from Dalaney’s mom (Natalie), who had done if before. The coaches, the team and Natalie worked together to go and deliver unwrapped toys.

“We have such great young women in this program, and we all really enjoyed helping the community. There’s nothing like giving back, especially during the holidays.”

This year, 153 agency owners collected donations throughout Pennsylvania and the New England area. Thanks to their participation, Toys for Tots will receive a $30,000 Allstate Foundation Helping Hands Grant.

“We are always looking to do something as a team, and it was a great way to do team bonding,” said Shaylor Williams, a senior guard and Meier’s younger sister. “It’s a great feeling to give back to the community, especially during the holidays.”

TJ point guard Jenna Clark, who will continue her basketball career at Yale, agreed.

“We collected over 40 toys and got the opportunity to drop them off together,” Clark said. “Everyone was really excited for the chance to give back during the holiday season and come together as a team.”

Manfredi said the girls have been connecting as a team both on and off the court. Following their donation, the Jaguars went to practice then capped the day by having dinner at a player’s house.

“We are working very hard on defense,” Manfredi said. “Off the court, we are working on our team bonding. We asked the girls if they would like to bring the joy of Christmas to less fortunate children. Donating to the Marine Toys for Tots program helped bring our team together. It was a team effort.”

The Toys for Tots campaign started Oct. 1 and wrapped up Dec. 15.

The Pittsburgh Toys for Tots campaign was managed by USMC First Sgt. Jason Polanco.

Ray Fisher is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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