The best gift is giving back.

At least that is what Brookfield girls youth softball (Major Division) coach Dan Cook is trying to teach. For the last five years Cook has ventured to Hines VA Extended Care Center (ECC) and put this simple lesson into practice through a demonstration of softball skills and fun games.

Cook began the yearly demonstration for a personal reason-Cook’s father spent the last five months of his life at Hines suffering from pancreatic cancer. After taking time to deal with his father’s loss, Cook admits he thinks less about himself and far more about the invaluable lesson he is teaching his players.

“I was one of seven kids and we all played little league due to my father’s influence,” he said. “The fact that I can combine my love of little league and show the girls the importance of volunteering and helping people in need has brightened my life.”

On Saturday, Cook went to Hines with seven girls from his team and five other players from around the league. The girls ages range from 10-14 years old and were the following: Samantha Cook, Cassandra Cook, Katie Dzierwa, Katie Walsh, Emily Gara, Colleen Doherty, Skye Riddle, Becky Rickman, Courtney Spirek, Kristin DiMaggio, Hayden Claire and Marisa Schwerin. Last year, Cook won the state championship, making good on a promise to bring the state banner to the ECC.

As for the demonstration, from the moment Cook enters the building, he makes sure to harness his player’s natural energy. The girls enter the cafeteria marching and cheering with softballs in hand, ready to entertain an audience of 25 veterans. Cook then takes the girls through a series of basic softball drills, showing the different stances such as fielding and hitting. The vets then roll the softballs to the girls to show their fielding prowess. The girls then line up and have a bubble gum competition, with the biggest bubble claiming top prize. Once again he involves the vets, asking them to choose which girl they think will win. Still, the best part of the demonstration for Cook is story time. He chooses several vets to tell their own personal little league experiences, with the girls huddled around them listening.

“The girls love the competition against each other and the competitions [help everyone] to interact,” Cook said. “The girls quickly see there is way more to life than softball. Some of these guys have no families and therefore no visitors. We try to lift them up for a few hours and bring them back to the time when they were kids playing ball. But, getting the smiles is the best part.”