Each season, the Lions are involved in a variety of community engagement projects throughout the River Valley, and for the fourth season in a row, they will host their popular Toy Toss to benefit the children of needy families during the Christmas season.
The Toy Toss will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, when the Lions host the Ecclesia College Royals in a nonconference game at the Stubblefield Center.
Fans are asked to bring a new soft toy to the game, and when the Lions score their first point of the game, they are asked to toss their soft toys onto the court in celebration. The toys are then collected and later delivered to the local Salvation Army, which will distribute the toys to children of needy families for Christmas.
The Lions are assessed a delay of game technical foul as a result of the toys being tossed onto the court, but Newman has always gladly accepted the penalty, knowing the greater good that comes from the event and the positive impact it has on his student-athletes and the community.
Last year, Southern Nazarene coach Adam Bohac declined the free throw opportunities that come with the technical foul as a gesture of his support of the event.
“I think it helps (the student-athletes) understand a much bigger picture during the holiday season,” Newman said. “I know our guys really look forward to spending time with the children and seeing the excitement this event brings to them. I know our guys will look back 10 or 20 years from now and understand that they made a difference.”
The Toy Toss has indeed made a significant difference for needy children in the community. More than 1,500 toys were collected during the inaugural event in 2010, more than 3,000 in 2011 and more than 8,000 this past season.
Newman said in that short span the event has become extremely popular among UAFS fans and the River Valley community. The event also has been recognized by the Heartland Conference and the NCAA, which awarded UAFS the Community Engagement Award of Excellence during the 2011-12 school year.
“I’m thrilled that the Toy Toss has taken off as well as it has,” Newman said. “I love to hear our community talk about the Toy Toss game and the impact it’s made in our community. I truly believe this event will become a symbol of our program, university and community for the entire country to see.”
The event has benefitted from community support and sponsorship throughout its run, too. This season, Taco Bell, the Salvation Army, Arvest Bank, the Heartland Conference and the UAFS 6th Man Club have pledged their support of the event.
“Besides the thousands of children who have been recipients of a Christmas gift, I believe the community has come closer as a whole,” Newman said. “It’s great to hear the stories from teachers, parents and even children in our community who are excited about giving and making a difference for others.”
Another area of support has been the local public and private schools. Newman, his staff and his student-athletes have worked to foster relationships with the schools to spread the message of the importance of giving back to the community and others who are less fortunate.
Each year, they conduct a friendly competition among schools to see who can collect the most toys for the Toy Toss. This year, eight Fort Smith elementary schools will participate in the competition – Woods Elementary, Sutton Elementary, Euper Lane Elementary, Albert Pike Elementary, Barling Elementary, Ballman Elementary, Cavanaugh Elementary and Beard Elementary.
“We actually have several winners, and each elementary will have a winning class or grade,” Newman said. “The winning class or grade will simulate the Toy Toss with our players next week. The school that collects the most toys will receive the Toy Toss trophy for the year, and their school name will be engraved on the trophy.”
Newman’s Toy Toss concept has now become popular among area schools, too. Last year, Booneville Public Schools held a Toy Toss at one of its basketball games, and this year, Magazine Public Schools held a Toy Toss at one of its basketball games.
“I love the idea that we’ve started something that makes countless children happy,” Newman said. “It’s not very often that we can do something as individuals or as a group that impacts thousands or hopefully even millions in a positive way, but this event has that possibility.”