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Aiming for hope

From left, CoE NROTC Battalion team members Nicholas Erlacker, Michael McGuire, Cortez Pree and Brett Rankin practice for Saturday's basketball game against active and retired Columbia police officers. Photo by Melinda Sheffler

No championship rings are on the line, no national title is at stake.

Still, members of the College of Engineering’s Naval ROTC Battalion team hope the basketball game in which they’ll compete Saturday will matter to a lot of people. The American Freedom Fighter Basketball Challenge, in which MU members of the American armed forces are slated to face off against active and retired Columbia police officers, will kick off this year’s “Toys for Tots” collection drive at Mizzou.

“We hope to get enough toys this year to fulfill all the requests we receive,” said Gunnery Sgt. Cortez Pree, Assistant Marine Officer instructor for the NROTC and coordinator of the toy drive.

The NROTC Battalion and Mizzou Marines Corps League have long sponsored a “Toys for Tots” drive to collect toys for needy children in 33 counties across Missouri. Pree organized Saturday’s charity match in hopes of increasing community support for the drive, which he said garnered about 50 fewer toys than the roughly 300 requested by eligible families last year.

Proceeds from the basketball game’s admission fee—either a new, unwrapped toy or $1—will benefit the “Toys for Tots” program and the Columbia Police Foundation’s Officer Down Club. The game will start at 7 p.m. at Columbia College’s Southwell Complex, 700 Range Line Street.

Donors also may drop off toys starting Oct. 16 in a collection bin on the first floor of Crowder Hall, along Maryland Avenue south of Rollins Road. The collection bin will be open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, until Dec. 16.

Nicholas J. Erlacker, a Marine Corps midshipman and a senior at Mizzou, is among the MU team members hoping to contribute by helping to raise the drive’s profile through the upcoming basketball contest. Practicing his underhand lay–up, Erlacker said he also hopes to win.

“It’s all for fun, but it’s a good competition,” he said.

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