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‘Pigskin Pals’: UTM football players give back to the community

‘Pigskin Pals’: UTM football players give back to the community
By BRAD GASKINS News Editor MARTIN — University of Tennessee at Martin football players are accustomed to having an impact on the football field. Throughout the course of the last several months, though, some of the players have had major impacts on many young lives off the field, thanks to a mentoring program with Martin Elementary School. Since September, UTM football players have teamed with the school to encourage students to do well in several aspects of life, including academic performance, physical fitness and general social skills. Through a program known as “Pigskin Pals,” 22 football players have periodically visited a classroom at the school throughout the year. Furthermore, five football players have teamed up with individual students and serve as their personal mentors. The five mentors are Charles Sweeton, Garrett Vincent, Taino Fears-Perez, D.J. McNeil and Julius McNair. Sometimes the mentors will take their students outside to toss around a football. Other times the mentors help the students with school work. Occasionally the mentor and his student will just walk up and down the halls talking. “We expected them to be good, but they have actually gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Martin Elementary principal Teresa Jackson said. “For young men to dedicate their time each week and be religiously here, that says a lot about their character and the kind of quality people (UTM coach Jason Simpson) looks for. Not only can they play football, but I think he looks for people who are great community workers as well. I think he expects that of his team.” The Pigskin Pals program came together as a partnership between the school, UTM and Coordinated School Health, according to Amy Tuck, school health coordinator with Weakley County Schools. “We wanted them to come in and serve as role models for the children,” Tuck said. The football players encouraged the children to be good students and also take care of themselves from a health and wellness standpoint. “When one of the Pigskin Pals walks in, the whole classroom gets excited,” Tuck said. In addition to the physical and social benefits, Jackson said the football players are helping meet specific academic needs. “When we received our Tennessee State Report Card, we had a couple of subgroups that we had to improve,” she said. “Our scores were good, but in order to close those achievement gaps, we found that we needed more male mentors. We had some little boys, in addition to their families, that we felt like could use a little support. “Before we knew it, we had the whole team here supporting our school.” The school returned the support last football season, when many of the students attended a UTM home football game. “Each week, our mentors have those students that probably need more encouragement, more attention and more inspiration to do well,” Jackson said. She praised the football mentors for their dedication. One of the mentors, for example, had his class schedule changed to make time available to come to the school. “They have been excellent,” Jackson said. “It’s made all the difference in the world with those students.” UTM football coach Jason Simpson said he’s just glad his players were given an opportunity to help out the community.
“I’m very pleased that we were given the opportunity to give something back to the community,” he said. “It was a tremendous opportunity for our program. We’re always talking about taking the time to make a positive influence in somebody else’s life.
“It’s neat for me to be able to see guys get out of their comfort zones – to get them out of the football room, out of the weight room and give them something else to do besides go to class, play football or take a nap.”
Simpson acknowledged that for many college students across the country, helping out a local elementary school isn’t always priority for young men and women.
“I know when I was in college, it was all about me,” he said. “So for these guys to be able to do this, I commend them. I take my hat off to them.”
Published in The WCP 4.30.13

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