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GROTON — Momentum keeps growing for a high-school hockey program whose focus seems to be as much on charitable work as winning games.

But there are different kinds of honor, and the 36 members of the high-school hockey program have no problem crossing from one to another.

“I started it as part of my plan to rebuild the hockey program,” said Groton-Dunstable hockey coach Brian Payne. “I have a saying: Character builds champions. If you have strong character in a player, he’s going to strive to do things.”

In that spirit, Payne held a fundraiser a few years ago that proved so successful and gratifying for his players that it not only launched an annual tradition, but one that boded to become a regular activity throughout the year.

“The first year we tried to fundraise, we did a clothing drive while also raising $5,700 for a former player with ALS,” said Payne. “I always remember my players and this player’s father approached me about raising money for a new bed for his son. I presented them with a check the same night Mike Lynch of Channel 5 gave us the ‘High Five Award’ for all the charity work we did.

“Since then, we’ve pushed forward and our efforts have grown. Last year we did the same thing as before including holding a charity hockey game with the State Police to help raise money for a student named Ben Goss, who was injured in an auto accident. We also did a food and clothing drive and collected toys for the Toys for Tots program.”

Toys for Tots was again featured in the hockey team’s latest fundraising effort on Dec. 14, where players hoped to beat their previous record by collecting more than five large boxes of toys.

“Hopefully, our efforts will motivate the community to come to our games and make donations to the different charities we support,” said Payne.

“Coach Payne has always tried to get the kids to give back to the community and this is one of the ways he’s doing it,” said Debbie Kenny, mother of one of Payne’s players. “The hockey program didn’t have that many people coming to watch the games, so Coach Payne thought of getting the community more involved with this campaign of giving back.”

At the Toys for Tots fundraiser, anyone who contributed something would have a chance at winning a $10,000 prize.

“This year, if a person comes in with a contribution to the Toys for Tots program, they get a raffle ticket for a chance to win $10,000,” said Payne. “If someone brings in 10 toys, they get 10 raffle tickets. That night, and on each of the nights that we do other drives, we’ll pull a ticket from a hat and the winner will get a chance to hit a hockey puck into a target. If it goes in the hole, they win the $10,000.”

On Jan. 4, there be having a clothing drive for Loaves and Fishes, then on Jan. 16 there will be a food drive, and on Jan. 25, donations of tools will be made for Habitat for Humanity.

Finally, players will help to raise money for a charity of their own choice.

“The kids are really excited about the community service program,” said Kenney. “At the end of each year, they have an opportunity to pick a charity. Last year, they decided to help Ben Goss.”

But fans need not restrict themselves to dates when the team is fundraising. At other times, with the support of local businesses, players are doing the giving with the first 75 fans at games scheduled for Dec. 21, Jan. 11 and Jan. 18 receiving rally towels, Crusader hats, and “super fan T-shirts,” respectively.

At a Feb. 1 game, a brand-new flat-screen TV will be given for the best costume representing team spirit; on Feb. 8, a brand-new Tablet will be given to the fan with the best team spirit sign; and on Feb. 15, all students will enjoy free admission and $1,000 in prizes will be given away.

Through the efforts of Payne, aided and abetted by assistant coaches Jeff March, Brendan McCann and Keith English, the sport has become not just a game, but a way of life.

“The players love doing the community service stuff,” said a pleased Payne. “They absolutely love it. They love giving back to the community and the lessons the kids are learning are great. Now, suggestions for different organizations to support are coming from the players themselves. So players are on board and they love it.”

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