With every car door opened for elementary students and each positive message delivered, Red Oak High School football players are leaving a new legacy.
Head football coach Chris Ross has been with the district for two months and implemented three phases into the program — academic integrity, social responsibility, and competitive excellence.
“Social responsibility really focuses on giving back to the community and the schools because you’re a leader in it, you’ve been thrust into this role. And, to be a leader, really is to serve,” Ross emphasized.
For the past six weeks, Wednesday mornings are committed to service. Even though the program is on a volunteer basis, the Hawks are eager to get involved.
Donald T. Shields Elementary Principal Shondra Jones said, “The football players are like celebrities when they come to our campus. The students are in awe of them, especially when they high-five the students as they walk down the hall to class.”
She added that the teachers are amazed to see former students interacting with their current students. Some of the parents commented to Shondra how great it is to have student-athletes modeling the “We Before Me” talon of Red Oak ISD.
“This is an awesome service opportunity and a great character-modeling opportunity for the athletes and our students. We are so thankful to coach Ross and his staff for making this happen,” Shondra expressed.
What makes the program more exciting is when the players get to revisit the elementary schools they attended.
Zyaun Jones is a junior defensive end who wished the program was implemented when he was in grade school.
“I thought it was cool because I like kids and I like to see their spark when they see us, and it gives me motivation,” Jones shared.
He opened car doors at Shields and H.A. Wooden Elementary and realized the students expect to see their favorite football player. The team has proven their leadership and accountability has brought them closer together.
“It made our character better. Now we are staying out of trouble a lot more. We are a team now,” Jones elaborated. "So we all have that impact on the kids. When we get back from the schools, we talk about what the kids were saying and how fun it was.”
Since the team has a presence with the younger generation, the players' reputation is more valuable to the community. Jones noticed the program strongly impacts the kids by giving them something and someone to look forward to.
He recalled his childhood days, watching the varsity players enter the field through the blow-up tunnel, dreaming about walking in their cleats one day. Now when it’s game night, he’ll know the kids he’s high-fiving.
Junior safety Hunter Smith also attended Wooden Elementary and now starts his Wednesday mornings sharing positive messages with the kiddos.
“It’s a blessing, seeing those kids’ faces light up is something special. It gets my day going, and I can see it does for them too,” Smith expressed.
He’s shared how the team never did anything like this before with the district and how it’s impacted the team as a whole. He said mainly everyone’s attitude has changed and the student-athletes focus on creating a stronger image.
“As a whole we want people to see Red Oak football differently,” Smith stressed.
Through volunteering, he’s been able to visit with some of this favorite past teachers and principal. But he’s also learned about himself and the role he plays in the community.
“For me to look at myself as a leader or role model it’s a blessing, and for other people, I have to set the standard for them for myself to be a leader and role model,” Smith explained.
“All football programs should do it and other sports programs,” Smith added. “Or, if you don’t play any sports then just get out there and talk to somebody, be positive, have a positive mindset.”
Ross is focused on creating an outstanding team, but to do that he needs outstanding teammates. This program has his athletes starting at the root of the community to build that character to bring on the field.
“It makes me proud of these guys," Ross expressed. "Because you’ll see students in an environment where it’s ‘yes sir, no sir.’ And I’m trying to get to know these young men, and it’s so easy to do that when you see them get down on one knee and are playing with kids.”
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450