Radd Thomas, a pitcher for the Washington State baseball team, is thrown a curveball.
When Thomas woke up that morning, making balloon animals was a skill unfamiliar to him. But, thanks to instruction videos on YouTube, Thomas is becoming adept at the discipline.
“I didn’t really know how to do it,” he said, while he begins work on the unicorn inside Hollingbery Fieldhouse. “I learned how to make a dog and a cat.”
“I am making unicorns.”
At the other end of the Fieldhouse are tables filled with gingerbread houses, and countless more in bins that are at the ready to replace the ones that are decorated.
“Hundreds and hundreds,” rowing student-athlete Renee Kemp said with a laugh of how many she and her fellow student-athletes made in preparation for the Butch’s Bash Holiday Carnival.
Kemp is the President of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee), the committee that organizes and runs the annual holiday event.
It is an event that requires hours of preparation as Kemp and her fellow student-athletes were at the Fieldhouse at 1 p.m. to set up for the evening festivities and that doesn’t take into account the work done in the weeks leading up to it, including constructing the gingerbread houses.
“It’s a big event,” Kemps said, “but also a big opportunity.”
That opportunity, she said, is to “interact with the community.”
“We want to be involved and be personable with the community,” said Kemp. “These little kids are going to grow up and want to come to our events and meet us in person.
“It’s so much fun,” said Kemp, who added that all sports not in competition, such as soccer and volleyball, which were at NCAA competitions, participated. “It’s something we look forward to doing.”
Coming Back Home
Butch’s Bash has created so many great memories that former football student-athlete Jeremiah Allison returned to Pullman, specifically for the event.
“I always took pride coming to Butch’s Bash,” said Allison, who played linebacker for the Cougars from 2012 to 2015. “I would lift in the morning and come work Butch’s Bash the rest of the day.”
“How could you not come back?”
Four years removed from his days as a WSU student-athlete, Allison, who is currently a student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., returned to Pullman to not only rekindle memories of his experiences at Butch’s Bash, but to create new memories by conducting the first toy drive for his foundation, the Allison H.O.P.E. Foundation.
“I wanted to come back here and have this be my first memory of my foundation’s toy drive,” Allison said. “There is no town like Pullman. This is a special place and people remember everything you do for a long time.”
Serving the Pullman Community and Beyond
The community service initiatives by SAAC are not limited to Butch’s Bash and not limited to benefiting the Pullman community.
Track and field student-athlete Charisma Taylor is assisting at one of the over two dozen stations featuring carnival games.
“It’s great to see the children having fun and see them smile,” she said.
Taylor, a sophomore from Nassau, Bahamas, joined SAAC in the fall and just a few weeks into fall semester Hurricane Dorian made landfall as the strongest hurricane on record to hit the Bahamas in September.
“I made the decision if I can’t be at home I have to do what I can from here,” Taylor said. “I came up with a clothing drive. I brought up the idea to SAAC and everyone was on board.”
“People wanted to help here and help her country,” said Kemp when she and SAAC learned of Taylor’s idea. “It was cool we could be a part of that.”
“It was overwhelming to see how people cared,” Taylor said. “I thought I would get some clothes but I didn’t think it would be that much.”
Butch’s Bash and the Bahamas clothing drive are just two of the many examples of the community service initiatives by SAAC. For instance, student-athletes engage with Pullman High School students to educate them on mental health through the Behind Happy Faces initiative, and each February, student-athletes volunteer at the Special Olympics Basketball Tournament, held at the Bohler Athletic Complex.
Furthermore, student-athletes participate in Reading Buddies is a program for students to visit local elementary schools to read books to children and Coug Pals a program that features a student-athlete paired with a student from a local elementary school to be pen pals with the chance to meet at Butch’s Bash.
“A lot of us participate in Coug Pals and Reading Buddies so getting the chance to see the kids is really cool,” said Kemp.
“My reading buddy, I first met him at Butch’s Bash,” said Allison. “He’s now 12-13 years old and he ran around here as a little kid. It’s fun to see the kids grow up.
“Athletics are put on a pedestal,” Allison added. “If you recognize that at a young age and able to use that sense of popularity you can change a kid’s life. We get a chance to see a smile of the kid’s faces. They will remember it forever.”
Back to the Unicorn
As Thomas continues to work on the unicorn he talks about his experience at Butch’s Bash.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “A whole bunch of people coming out to support the Cougs. You can’t ask for more than that…”
He stops mid-sentence as he has completed his project.
“Okay, here is your unicorn,” he says as he gives his work to the little girl.
And then Thomas turns his attention on to his next customer.
“What can I make for you? A flower? What kind of flower would you like? A pink flower?”