Glenbard West making an impact off the court as well
Ryan Renfro is proud of his impact on the court.
The Glenbard West senior center is one of the key factors behind his team's stunning run in the last two seasons. In total, the Hilltoppers (10-0) have lost just one game in 2021 - between the shortened COVID-19 campaign and this winter.
But Renfro, an Army recruit, points to a bigger reason for his happiness. The Hilltoppers, coached by Jason Opoka, are making a difference off the court, too.
"For me personally, it means a lot to help out with my church and work with some of kids there," Renfro said. "I'm trying to show them what it means to have good character. It's a great way to teach these kids to make best choices in life. I feel that's my biggest impact. I've lived in Glen Ellyn my whole life, and grown close to a lot of people and made some great relationships with the (local) kids."
Opoka said he's been focused on showing his players the importance of helping out in the community for the past few years. Opoka said his players have welcomed any opportunity to help people in need.
"The Glenbard West boys basketball program prides itself with serving the community," Opoka said. "In the past we have volunteered at the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry, donated our time making blankets for the underprivileged, helped create Christmas baskets for children and organized a game day event to donate to Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation.
"Community involvement is a life lesson that we pride ourselves in. On one Saturday a year, instead of practice, we clean up the grounds of Glenbard West. It's important to show gratitude and compassion while teaching life lessons."
Senior guard Jack Cardwell said the team gathered together before the start of the season to spend a few hours making flyers at the Food Pantry. Cardwell said the Hilltoppers' chemistry on the court extends to off-the-court activities.
"It's awesome that our varsity team is very busy but we're supportive of our community," Cardwell said. "We all want to give back and show thanks to the community. We've helped out at the food pantry making flyers and spreading them out in the community.
"We split up in groups and some players made flyers and some passed them out. We're super unselfish on the court, so it was a great way to work as a team besides basketball. We're all great friends. It's cool to have a great group."
Opoka said he's slated to incorporate more team functions to aid the community in the near future. The Hilltoppers, who have four Division I recruits in their starting lineup, are building a rockstar-like following in Glen Ellyn and on track to be the all-time best team in program history.
"We plan on continuing to sponsor a game for the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation," Opoka said. "The "Mind Your Health" is an important topic to our school, community and current senior group. We will continue to promote assistance and support to those in need."
Renfro said the entire team is actively involved during the community events, even joking that senior forward Braden Huff, a Gonzaga recruit, helps out by signing autographs after games or activities. After the Hilltoppers played last season without any students in attendance, Renfro said the team appreciates the big crowds cheering them on this season.
"It means so much to all of us," he said. "Football is big here. Glen Ellyn has never been a big basketball team, so to have so many people show up to our games is special. We have a lot of support and we can feel the energy."