Franklin senior girls basketball captain Kaylee Grube is an optimist.
Facing down her second major knee injury in as many years, with no hope at all for hoops at for the remainder of her high school career, she could have disappeared from the team and just been another student walking the hallways.
But that's not how she's built. The future elementary or special education teacher was with her coach, Tony Kathrens, and his family at Mayfair Mall on Dec. 18, working with other volunteers from the team constructing 200-plus teddy bears for the "Build-a-Bear" project that Kathrens' family started some years ago to provide sick youngsters at Children's Hospital some hope over the holidays.
Sometime this week, the Kathrens' family (alias Santa Claus and friends) will drop off the bears at Children's. Little will the kids know that one of the "elves" who helped fundraise and then build the bears has to walk around gingerly on two damaged knees, but Grube considers it a small price to pay for all the smiles that will be elicited.
"It was so much fun doing this," said Grube. "...There are just so many kids at Children's (who need help)."
Grube, who is also at every practice and every game, helping out with drills, passing and catching the ball, doing anything that doesn't involve any running, found helping on Kathrens' project easy. About $2,000 in funds are needed to buy the materials to build the bears, and Kathrens has been very creative fundraising in the past.
This time around, Grube helped out in that regard by getting the Olive Garden on 76th Street in Greenfield to donate food for a fundraising pasta dinner that was held recently at Franklin High School. The effort brought in about 150 people and was a rousing success according to all involved.
"My wife (Sheryl) and daughter (Abby) actually got this project started around 2007," said Kathrens. "Long story short, raising $2,000 is nothing to sneeze at, and it was Kaylee who suggested 'Why not use our youth night fundraiser to help this along?' and we did. The kids, the parents and the youth players and their parents raised about $1,000. It all says something really great about Kaylee.
"She could have been a great player for us, but she's proving to be an even better example of a great person. She did this and set a great example for everyone. Because of what she did ,we didn't have to beg, borrow or steal (the money for the bears)."
Kathrens said Grube's example made raising the rest of the funds easy.
"It just shows you what kind of people we have in the district," he said.
Grube didn't think that what she did was that big a deal. She sees it as part of her duties as team captain.
"Because of that, I have to lead by example," she said. "Do something that others will hopefully follow next year. They (members of the team) were there when I had surgery (in early October). I got such great support, I needed to feel like I was still part of the team, so I try to be there every practice, every game, every pasta dinner.
"We'll put a coloring book and some crayons in with each bear," she added. "We did this last year, too, and we made about 250 of them. We were looking to do more this year."
It's all part of her strong sense of responsibility. She came up through the youth program and was a Sabers hoops girl through and through. She lost all of the her junior season last year when she drove in for a left-handed lay-up and damaged the ACL and her meniscus in her left knee during a fall league game.
She worked hard on rehab after surgery and was cleared to play summer AAU ball, but in the same fall league just a couple of months ago, again going for a lay-up, something went wrong, and she damaged her good right knee.
"I just shook my head, looked at my coach and said, 'Same thing!'"
The surgery went well, and she goes in for rehab once a week and does therapy at home, but she did note that she was "grumpy for about a week" after the injury happened.
"It was just so irritating," she said with a chuckle. "I wanted to play so bad. But like I said, I had to set a good example."
"She would have been so good for us in the post," said Kathrens, a bit ruefully.
But because she has chosen to stay involved, she has succeeded in other ways
"I am really proud of Kaylee refocusing after her repeated injuries," said her mom, Brenda Grube. "She's come up through the Saber program since third grade. She's loved basketball and the team atmosphere for years. She always wanted to be like the kids she watched while growing up in the program. The life lessons learned through athletics are invaluable.
"I'm thankful for the basketball community in Franklin and the various coaches that support all of these kids, teaching them confidence, selflessness, kindness, cooperation and leadership skills in addition to basketball."
Kathrens said he feels fortunate to be involved with such people.
"My wife and daughter have always been so humble about this," he said. "It's never been about them. It was just something nice and different to do around Christmas."
"And Kaylee is just so awesome, there are just not many kids around like her."
Again, she didn't want to make a big deal of it.
"This happened for a reason," Grube said of the injuries. "There was a plan for me."