Spectators inside Patrick Henry High School’s gym cheered each time a ball whizzed like a laser toward teammates most visibly marked with brightly colored T-shirts.
Sometimes, balls were hurled into the bleachers. Other times, they bounced off an arm or leg, prompting the unfortunate player to march to the sideline. Then other times, the confidence on some faces quickly disappeared as an opponent’s firm grasp disappointingly stopped a thrown ball.
Approximately 324 players — in teams exclusively comprised of either Roanoke City Public Schools employees or middle and high school students — took part in the second annual Help the Homeless Dodgeball Tournament on Saturday afternoon.
Sponsored by the STAR Council, the event raises money for the Roanoke school district’s homeless students.
STAR, which stands for Students Take Action in Roanoke, is made up of Patrick Henry and William Fleming High School students who regularly raise funds to aid homeless students.
The tournament raises money via the suggested admission price of $5 and the teams, each of which are required to raise at least $150 on their own. Additionally, the teams set up separate GoFundMe accounts to help with the fundraiser.
Saturday’s tournament raised more than $13,600, up from nearly $12,000 last year, according to school district officials.
“It’s great for us to see the entire district come out,” Taisha Steele, the school district’s executive director of school counseling and equity, said. “All of our schools have children who are impacted by homelessness.”
Homelessness has been a pressing matter for the school district as it saw a division record of 701 homeless students last year, spokesman Justin McLeod said.
As of Friday, the division has identified 324 students as homeless so far this school year.
A student is deemed homeless if they or their families are living unsheltered, in a shelter or in a hotel. In some cases, they are also considered homeless if they are living with other families.
Once a student is identified as homeless, they are effectively considered homeless for the entire school year, according to federal guidelines.
Among the top reasons for student homelessness are experiences with domestic violence, parents losing their jobs and evictions, Steele said.
“It flows with the economy,” she said.
The STAR fundraisers provide money for a variety of needs, Steele said. They often include money for coats, hygiene products, school supplies and medicine, she said.
The aid sometimes even follows certain students to college, Steele said.
Additionally, the division partners with the city of Roanoke to offer an assistance program called the Help the Homeless Fund.
Now in its fourth year, the partnership has provided approximately $31,000 to help 211 families and 473 students, according to figures previously provided by McLeod. The fund is a sort of housing assistance that helps with needs such as rent, deposits and utilities.
Saturday’s activities saw participation from a total of 30 teams.
“I think it’s going really good,” said Spencer Duval, a senior and the president for Patrick Henry on the STAR Council. “All I’ve been hearing is how much fun it’s been.”
The tournament began with student teams only playing against other student teams and employee teams only squaring off against other employee teams. The final saw a student team against a team mostly comprised of teachers.
“It’s exciting, it’s really fun,” Angelo Bonilla, who was on a red-shirt team mostly made up of James Breckinridge Middle School teachers, said between games.
Near Bonilla was his colleague Ryan Keith, a teacher who received the nickname “Showtime.”
“We’re on our A-game,” Keith said, boasting.
Players, however, said they were happy about supporting a good cause.
“We had a ball,” school district maintenance employee Kenneth Cole said.