Sophia Witherspoon wanted her Fort Pierce Central High School girls basketball players to experience something she felt fortunate to be able to do at higher levels of her own career.
The former WBNA guard is taking the Cobras to the 50th annual Joe Floyd/Ravn Alaska Winter Classic in Kodiak, Alaska this week for what Witherspoon says will be an “opportunity of a lifetime.”
“There is a lot of prep work involved in a trip like this, and we’re just trying to keep them focused, but we are so excited,” said Witherspoon, a Fort Pierce Central graduate. “Some have seen snow before, some have never flown before. I’m used to this, but I want them to be able to experience it too. I was an adult before I had a chance to experience travel like this, so I look forward to giving them this chance and to show them there are bigger things beyond this small town.”
Witherspoon got the idea for the tournament from the mother of a former player who is from Alaska and helped set up the trip.
After pitching it to athletic director Peter Crespo, Witherspoon got the OK to go as long as the team could raise the money so players didn’t have to pay anything for the trip. Planning began in January, and the Cobras raised more than $20,000 through things like a spaghetti dinner, yard sale and collecting outside Walmart, where the players passed out schedules and gave the community a chance to meet and support them.
The team will be housed by the parents of the Kodiak High School athletic director, which helped cut down the expenses.
“We had to raise a lot of money for it, but Fort Pierce Central and the St. Lucie County School Board were supportive, and parents pitched in to make sure we could give this experience to the girls,” Witherspoon said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Central leaves Sunday and returns on Jan. 1. The trip to Kodiak Island will take about 12 hours, starting with a five-hour flight from Orlando to Seattle, a layover and then another flight to Anchorage, where the Cobras then will board a smaller plan to get to the small town of Kodiak.
The Cobras will play three games Dec. 27-29.
“Each year we do a trip where we go away and do team bonding,” Witherspoon said. “This is our team bonding to close out the year and a way to begin the new year together.”
Central is off to a 3-8 start, but Witherspoon hopes the tournament is a chance to close out the year on a high note and gain some momentum for the second half of the schedule. The Cobras have been led by Larissa Jennings, Eleighseea Rasmussen, Maryanne Logsdon and Tahmara Belizaire.
“I’m excited about this team,” Witherspoon said. “The girls need to understand this is a process we have to go through. We are 3-8, but our record does not depict the team we have. Hopefully we can just continue to grow and build chemistry during this trip to finish out 2016 and start strong in the new year.”