Character. Grit. Commitment. Texas high school football players put forth a tremendous amount of effort to be able to do what they do on Friday nights. Early morning team meetings, followed by a full day in the classroom, on to practices in the heat precede homework, chores, youth group, among a host of other volunteer, civic, and extra-curricular activities. In fact, if you were to ask any high school coach what their top priorities are each season, I’d be willing to gamble that while winning is certainly in the top few reasons, it most certainly isn’t deemed the ultimate mark of success. Instead, coaches invest heart, time, and a whole of energy into equipping young men with the tools needed to be leaders and champions for life outside the gridiron.
Many endeavors include two types of people; those who perform in the spotlight and those who work behind the scenes. For Texas high school football players, both roles hold true. We are lucky enough to see tackles and touchdowns. What we don’t see, however, is how they become stronger young men when the Friday night lights go out.
Honing in on Heroes in Allen
Start with the Allen Eagles. The elite program goes deeper than dominating competition week-in and week-out. Every Thursday, the team participates in Reading with the Eagles. This program allows them to visit two local elementary schools to promote childhood literacy by reading with the students. Many of the Eagles also double as Young Life volunteers. The Eagles have a heart for people with special needs. Not only are they involved in Special Olympics, but they include special team managers as well. The special team managers work the sidelines encouraging the team and inspiring the crowd. They are an integral part of the team and are treated as such. They run out onto the field each week and even travel to away games. The team collaborates to ensure that these guys are taken care of and made to feel as critical members of the Eagles’ squad.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeves
In Allen, you’re likely to find that heroes are certainly not lacking on the depth chart.
Building Community and Capacity in Seminole
Heroes aren’t isolated to Allen or even to the big city. Kent Jackson is the head coach and athletic director of the Seminole Indians. He’s established programs for the team that provides the opportunity for them to mentor and to be mentored. The Indians spend Friday afternoons in small groups serving in various capacities around town. Some read to students at the elementary and junior high campuses while others spend time visiting with senior citizens. In addition to working in the community, the young men are also developing relationships with “chiefs”. Every Friday morning, the athletes spend time bonding over breakfast with a community member. The chiefs help to build capacity in the Indians so that they can turn around and extend the same helping hand in their volunteer efforts.
“The athletes love it and really look forward to it,” said Elizabeth Jackson. “It is something that the whole community loves.”
In Seminole, you’ll find that there’s incredible significance behind the stat sheets. These young men are gaining momentum on the field and around town.
Kicking Off With Kindness in Needville
The Bluejays of Needville are lifting more than weights. In fact, you’ll find that the spirits of students and staff on the elementary and middle school campuses are lifted as well after the football team visits to engage in spirit walks. The athletes work to emphasize and model the crucial component of building and being part of a community. You’ll also find the Bluejays out and about working in partnership with community organizations. For example, they assist serving meals at various Knights of Columbus functions. The team can be found making great gains with the elementary students. A new program established this season includes the coach’s selection of 11-12 football players who report to the elementary school bright and early. While there, they help with the student drop-off line by opening doors, greeting students, and even reading stories to them. How exciting for young children to have the ‘big kids’ and ‘football stars’ invest in their success and help them to kickoff their days with a friendly greeting!
It’s no secret that high school students carry schedules that are booked down to the minute. For the football team, they are inundated with endless tasks each day. It is an incredible feat for coaches and athletes that community service and volunteering are prioritized. In these acts, young men are developing a playbook that will carry them even further than the end zone. Hats off to these impressive young men who have learned the importance of giving back to the fans in the stands.