On the basketball court and on mission trips in Central America, Eva George has grown into a key player
Eva George thrust her arms into the wet, coarse cement. The mixer was broken, so she took the lead in churning by hand. Shoveled and smoothed, the cement would harden into durable new flooring in nearly twenty ragged homes occupying the foothills near Tegucigalpa, Honduras--homes that previously had only dirt floors.
George isn't afraid to get her hands dirty and take charge. She leads by example, whether she's stirring cement on a mission trip to Central America with an Episcopal youth group or sinking buckets in Tomsich Arena as captain of this year's Ladies basketball team.
At Kenyon, the senior from Lincoln, Massachusetts, has served as an admissions tour guide on campus and a Spanish tutor at Wiggin Street Elementary School. Currently she's co-secretary of the Kenyon Student Athletes. But basketball fans know her best for her success on the court. Using her 5'11" frame to post up and overpower opponents, George averaged 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
"Eva has evolved into one of the most important players in our program," head coach Suzanne Helfant said. "I have seen more growth in her over the past three-plus years than any other player.
"She has morphed into a very confident, capable player, but more importantly she has played a large role in keeping our team on the same page," Helfant continued. "She transcends all lines and seems to be able to connect with every single player on the team. She has a very unassuming personality that appeals to everyone she comes in contact with. She doesn't intimidate; she empowers the people around her."
Given those accolades, it's hard to believe that George arrived in Gambier with no expectations to play college hoops, and was basically a walk-on during her first season with the Ladies. That year, she played in twenty-one games but didn't start any of them and averaged just seven minutes of playing time. Last season as a junior, she started twenty-two games and averaged nearly twenty-six minutes of floor time.
George herself acknowledges the parallels between her basketball career and her experiences on mission trips. "I've grown in many ways and learned what it takes to be a leader," she said. "I understand the importance of building trust, being selfless, and making sacrifices. The two environments are totally different, but in order to succeed, the same principles apply."
Leadership emerged gradually. George remembers that, during her earliest mission trips, she was more tentative, in part because she could speak very little Spanish. One summer, the youth group traveled to the impoverished community outside Tegucigalpa to build a cistern that provided clean water. Then came the trip in which George lent a hand, literally, with the cement.
Last summer, the group went to El Salvador. George, who had just finished her junior year at Kenyon, was now in the role of adult mentor, supervising the group as they worked on putting in the foundation for a school. While not fluent, she knew enough Spanish to feel more connected and more involved. The experience was correspondingly deeper.
"It's a great feeling being able to make a difference, to instill hope, and to just let others know that people do care," George said. "Not everyone lives like we do, and until you see that up close it's hard to describe. It rattles you; it's something you feel you need to fight, because it just can't go on. Sometimes when I get back home or back to school, that feeling fades, but the more and more I go back, the more it becomes a part of me."
George and the Ladies are shooting for a conference title this year. But beyond the prospect of victory lies a sense of satisfaction that nourishes everything she does. On and off the court, she has stepped up her game, provided leadership, and created space for those around her to grow as well.
"She came to our program with very little fanfare," said Helfant, who has seen a good many impressive young women in her twelve-plus years at Kenyon. "But she will leave as one of the most respected players to wear a Kenyon Ladies uniform."
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