Buddy Buddy
Trinity softball player founds nonprofit mentoring program
Friday, April 9, 2021
Gina Monaco in her uniform runs alongside a little girl while Trinity softball players and other little girls form a line on either side of them, offering high fives during a trinity softball game

For as long as softball outfielder and Trinity Buddies founder Gina Monaco can remember, sports have been a vital part of her life.

With both her parents working in the sports industry, Monaco ’21 grew up surrounded by San Antonio’s professional athletes. The athletes spoke in her classes at school and led her through drills at summer camp, teaching her along the way that sports can be a platform for something bigger than herself.

“I saw athletes using their platform to give back to their fans and young athletes, and I remember always being amazed by their kind-heartedness and their ability to not take their position for granted,” says Monaco, a communication major minoring in both sport management and film studies. “I’ve always wanted to be like them and do something of my own and give back to my community.”

Gina Monaco '21 plays outfield for Trinity Softball in 2021, donning a face mask during COVID-19 times.

This early inspiration became Monaco’s motivation to found Trinity Buddies, a nonprofit mentoring program that uses softball to foster growth on and off the field. Monaco formed Trinity Buddies with the help of its partner charity, Wish for Our Heroes, which she was part of before attending Trinity.

Through Trinity Buddies, Monaco and her Tiger teammates work with the McAllister Park Little League, instructing skills camps for the Little Leaguers and hosting them as honorary players at Trinity softball games to give them an experience of a collegiate athlete. Monaco and her teammates also take to the stands to cheer on the players at their Little League games.

McAllister Little Leaguers listen to the national anthem as honorary players alongside Trinity softball players in February 2020.

“One goal of Trinity Buddies is to show the kids that they can dream of being college athletes, but also that sports aren’t the only thing. There are plenty of things [they can do],” says Monaco, whose most recent skills camp, held before the pandemic, welcomed 80 participants. “We express to them that hard work goes into whatever they do, and as long as they go for it, they can achieve it.”

(Being a college athlete) was the same dream I had when I was their age playing on the same field.

Along with softball skills and game knowledge, Trinity Buddies teaches young athletes to focus on a healthy lifestyle. Players from Trinity’s softball program speak at local elementary and middle schools about positive self-talk, healthy choices, and their journey to becoming collegiate student-athletes. One of the visits included Monaco’s own elementary school, with her first-grade teacher’s class.   

“Switching spots with the students was heartwarming,” Monaco says. “I was able to mention I was a former student, and they got wide-eyed and just thought it was the coolest thing. It was so awesome to give back to an elementary school that I have such fond memories of.”

Gina Monaco '21 and her teammates presented to a Coker Elementary School second-grade class—taught by one of Monaco's former teachers—in November 2019.

These nostalgic visits are part of the reason Monaco wanted to develop a program that helped the very community that shaped her. She was a Little Leaguer in the same McAllister Park Little League she mentors, and she also grew up attending sports camps hosted at Trinity. She still keeps in touch with former coaches and teachers, which created a perfect setup for Trinity Buddies.

“I wanted to give back to the local community that helped me along the way,” Monaco says. “I wanted to help out the same kid who I once was. [Being a college athlete] was the same dream I had when I was their age playing on the same field.”

Trinity softball players teach skills and drills to children at McAllister Park in October 2019 as part of Trinity Buddies.

Along the way, Monaco has developed close relationships with the parents and children who attend her skills camps and school talks. Parents text Monaco after her camps, sharing that their children are now begging to play softball and be coached by a Trinity player. Most of the time, though, the parents just want to say thank you.

“They’ll say, ‘Thank you for being there and being in the moment,’ because you can have some athletes show up [to events like these] and they just do it to cross off something on their agenda,” Monaco says. “All of those compliments will stay with me forever.”

Gina Monaco '21 addresses children at a Trinity Buddies softball skills camp, held on campus in January 2020. 

Monaco says the time her teammates put into these events is well spent: Children leave not only knowing about softball, which can be an underrepresented sport, but also about how women can succeed in athletics.

“Some of them didn’t even know that you could play college softball or you could have a female coach,” Monaco says. “For young girls who are looking for role models, hopefully they find one in us.”

Being someone for young female athletes to look up to is huge. I feel female role models aren’t as highlighted or broadcasted in the sports world or in the media.

Monaco is surely one such role model. Her career accolades include selections to the All-SCAC Second Team, the SCAC Academic Honor Roll twice, and the SCAC All-Sportsmanship Team. She also earned the SCAC Character and Community Women’s Student-Athlete of the Week honor twice for her work with Trinity Buddies. She’s made the dean’s list twice, and she won the 2020 Thurman Adkins “Unsung Hero” Student Leadership & Service Award. This spring, she took home the top honor in one of her minors: Outstanding Senior in Sport Management.

Gina Monaco '21 fist bumps head Trinity softball coach Abby Martin during a game.

Monaco is in her fourth season as a team attendant for the NBA San Antonio Spurs and is also a former team attendant for the WNBA San Antonio Stars and a former statistician for the AHL San Antonio Rampage. She volunteers with Lone Star Play Ball to help adults with special needs play softball, as well as with her church to teach sign language for worship songs to autistic children. She represents all Trinity female student-athletes on the SCAC Student Advisory Academic board, bridges the relationships between student-athletes and professors on the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, and leads students in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It might just be easier to ask what she hasn’t done during her time at Trinity.

“Being someone for young female athletes to look up to is huge,” Monaco says. “I feel female role models aren’t as highlighted or broadcasted in the sports world or in the media. Being able to be that role model for them is a big goal for Trinity Buddies.”

Thrown a Curveball

When the pandemic started shutting events down in March 2020, Monaco regrouped with her teammates to find a way to move their work online—she felt they owed it to the families who had been with them from the start. “No matter what obstacles we hit, we were going to find a way around them,” she says.

Though the Little League camps were put on hold, Monaco moved their school talks online, an undertaking she calls hard but humorous.

“Going from being surrounded by 80-plus Little Leaguers to talking to kids through a screen, it’s obviously pretty tough, and it can be harder to form those relationships that you’re trying to form,” Monaco says. You can’t help but smile though, she says, when the Zoom conversations with 7-year-olds derails into their favorite colors and animals. “But what do you expect?” Monaco says, laughing.

Tiger sports teams raised thousands of dollars for local families in need by selling silicone Trinity Buddies wristbands in Spring 2021.

Monaco also wanted to find a way to give back financially during the pandemic. As part of the NCAA’s United As One campaign, Trinity Buddies partnered with the Trinity Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) to support homeless families in San Antonio’s North East Independent School District, the same district Monaco attended. Student-athletes from every Tiger sport sold silicone Trinity Buddies bracelets to parents, alumni, students, and other fans, held local spirit nights at restaurants, and encouraged donations. As of press time, the partnership has raised $3,000 for these families.

Monaco says none of this would have been possible on her own. “You’re only a leader if followers follow you,” she says. “At the end of the day, I was grateful to be surrounded by people who were still supporting me despite the setbacks that we had. Trinity Buddies would be nothing if my teammates weren’t invested, and if kids and families didn’t think we cared about them.”

Robin Johnson is an English Ph.D. student UTSA. She is an alumna of St. Mary's University in San Antonio, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees.

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