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A recurring series on WGLT's Sound Ideas about the central Illinois athletes who do incredible things, even after the game is over.

Beyond Sports: From hoops to hats, an IWU basketball player uses her crocheting skills to help babies in need

Emily Kleffman recently donated about 180 crocheted hats for babies to a pregnancy center in Tinley Park.
Emily Kleffman recently donated about 180 crocheted hats for babies to a pregnancy center in Tinley Park.

Illinois Wesleyan University basketball player Emily Kleffman made the most of her downtime during COVID shutdowns in 2020.

Kleffman, a sophomore nursing student from the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, learned to play an instrument and crocheted close to 180 winter hats for babies.

In this edition of Beyond Sports, Kleffman said she got hooked on crocheting long before the world shut down. She picked up the hobby from her great aunt in grade school.

Emily Kleffman
Emily Kleffman

“Eventually when I got to eighth grade or freshman year of high school, I decided I wanted to make baby hats for those in need,” Kleffman said. “When you are driving around and you see homeless people who are freezing in the winter, so I thought I might as well try to make someone’s day better.”

Kleffman, who donated the hats to a pregnancy center in Tinley Park, said she doesn’t plan to ever sell her crochet creations, adding she gets satisfaction in seeing them go to those in need.

“Babies are going to be kept at least a little bit warmer this winter,” Kleffman said. “Just the fact that it might make someone smile or make someone’s day a little better, that’s all I need to want to make the hats.”


Kleffman said she wants to become a travel nurse after she graduates from IWU. She said the pandemic has only strengthened her resolve to pursue a nursing career so she can help others.

“It hasn’t negatively impacted me. I would say it’s more like a positive because it makes me want to work harder to help people,” she said.

Playing basketball

Kleffman said basketball practice helped her cope with a rigorous academic schedule during her freshman year, but she's grateful the Titan women's hoops team intends to play a full season this year.

“Freshman year was definitely hard because we had over 100 practices and we only had 10 games, so it was hard to stay motivated to lift twice every day and work my butt off at practice,” she said.

Kleffman has shown she’s had no problem staying focused on her future, whether it’s her desire to help others from a hospital bed or through her handiwork at home.

She noticed nursing and crocheting share a common thread. “In nursing you are taking care of people and trying to make their lives better by helping them in the hospital and by me making hats is, in a way, like taking care of a patient,” Kleffman said.

Playing the ukulele

Kleffman also learned to play the ukulele in the early stages of the pandemic. She said she got the string instrument from her brother who plays the ukulele and guitar.

She said she always considered herself more athlete than musician, but decided 2020 was the perfect time to learn something new.

“Over quarantine, obviously, we are all stuck inside. We had nothing to do, so I just asked my brother one day if I could try to play his ukulele,” she said, adding she learned to play a few songs through several books her gave her and by watching YouTube videos.

“Definitely a lot of time spent on that, but it was fun,” Kleffman said.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.