This Christmas is a very special one for me, as it is my first as "Uncle Zak."
My gorgeous niece came into the world in January of this year, so this is her first Christmas, and although she lives more than 2,000 miles away in Canada, she's spending her first Christmas in the States with us.
Emma Jean has brought joy into the lives of us all, and we're all incredibly excited that she is visiting us.
And personally, she has given me a renewed sense of the giving aspect of the Christmas holiday.
I've always enjoyed giving gifts to my closest friends and family members, but this year, I've been especially excited as I have explored the aisles of every department store within a reasonable radius seeking the perfect gifts for Emma.
Giving is an important part of the Christmas holiday for my family and me, and as I've noticed since I started writing my column, a number of things I have learned in my life carry over into the world of sports.
When I think about it, sports have taught me more about giving than I ever would have imagined.
In today's sports pages, you will read about two athletes who did their parts to give generously.
The first of these stories is about local baseball-prodigy-turned-pro, Devin Mesoraco, and his generous monetary contribution to the building of a new concession stand and clubhouse at the Rich Kuntz Memorial Field in Punxsutawney.
Professional athletes continually contribute to the towns that raised them in efforts to build them up and make them better places for the future athletes that will grow up there.
Although many dream of playing professional sports when they grow up, every young athlete will not accomplish his or her dream. But thanks to the contributions of these professional athletes, the children may be granted an experience that's a bit more like the "Major League" experience they're seeking right in their own back yard.
While many professional athletes such as Mesoraco give of themselves financially, it is also very common for them to give their time to volunteer for organizations that help make the world a better place, as well.
Mesoraco is also well-known in this area for his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation over the years, in particular with their Light Up a Child's Life campaign locally.
This year was no different, as Mesoraco made several appearances at the fund-raiser, which broke another record in contributions.
Not every town is blessed with professional athletes to come back home in the offseason and donate their time and resources, though.
Luckily, even many who are just youngsters are beyond their years in the area of giving.
Sadly, the world lost one of its little angels Aug. 13 of this year when Kadie Stonebreaker, who lived in the Marion Center area, passed away at age four from a form of cancer called neuroblastoma, but one area teen athlete felt the urge to do her part with her senior project.
In the 2011 Marion Center Cancer Awareness Tip-Off Tournament Dec. 9-10 — a tournament that hosted Punxsy's girls' and boys' teams — Marion Center High School senior Megan Ruddock ran the tournament and donated the contributions to Kadie's family to help defer expenses surrounding their loss.
Ruddock's Christmas spirit shone through a bit early as she gave her all on and off the court for a little girl who had touched her and taught her life lessons at such a young age.
In lieu of an All-Tournament team, Ruddock handed out Strength Awards to players on participating teams whose lives had been directly affected by cancer. One player participating in the tournament was a cancer survivor himself.
Amidst the rivalry that has run deep between Marion Center and Punxsutawney high schools, the players came together for a common cause: To give of themselves.
On and off the court, athletes from the Majors to the local level have giving on their minds, and their contributions continue to make the world a better place.
With each gift I watch little Emma unwrap this Christmas, I'll be thankful for every moment I've been given with her while being mindful of the losses we've all endured over the years.
Emma is just now at the age where she is learning to give you things and take them away.
My brother and sister-in-law are trying to teach her please and thank you, but we're not quite there yet.
Still, as she hands me something, I feel blessed to receive her gifts, and just as quickly when she takes it back, I realize I'm blessed with the ability to give, as well.
We all have so much to give, from monetary donations to giving of our time, and that really is quite a blessing.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you and many blessings upon the ones you hold dearest.