Every morning at elementary schools across the Clover School District, cars pull up, school employees open doors, and children hop out and head off to class. But each Friday morning, those staff members are joined by teenagers in football jerseys who also give high-fives and fistbumps to any kid who wants them.
Those teenagers are players on Clover High School’s football team. Giving back to the community is a big part of what it means to be a Blue Eagle, said coach Chad Smith, who brought the idea with him from Easley, where he was an assistant coach.
“I thought it was a fantastic idea to drum up interest in the program,” Smith said. “Teachers love seeing them, kids love seeing them, parents love seeing them.”
So every week on gameday, the players get up bright and early and fan out to all six elementary schools by 7 a.m., ready to open doors in the drop-off line, greet students and show them a friendly face. The boys get assigned to schools based on where they live, Smith said, so for many, that means going back to the elementary schools they attended years ago.
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On Friday morning at Crowders Creek Elementary School in Lake Wylie, plenty of the elementary students wore their own Blue Eagles jerseys.
“It’s awesome,” said third-grader Alexander Tribble, wearing his jersey proudly. “I’m a Blue Eagle.”
Alexander said he got the jersey and wore it on Friday because he knew the football players would be there.
Tanner Whitley, a senior fullback and linebacker for the Blue Eagles, said that warms his heart.
“It’s great,” he said. “We get to come out and make these little kids’ days.”
This is the second year football players have been opening doors, and Crowders Creek prekindergarten-second grade Principal Georgia Westmoreland looks forward to Fridays in the fall because she knows the football players will be there.
“The community spirit that these football players bring to our school is fabulous,” she said.
Coach Smith knew the football players were making a difference when he and his family moved from Easley to Clover. His son, then 6, asked if he would get to see the football players each Friday at his new school.
High school athletes often don’t realize the effects they have on younger students, Smith said. By going to the schools, they get to really see that, and the students get to put a face with the idea of a football player.
Senior tight end and linebacker Brandon Welch said getting to spend time at Crowders Creek each Friday is awesome.
“It puts us out in front of people and shows them that we care,” Welch said.
And while most kids are just excited to see them, Welch said one student last year jumped out of his car and asked Welch when they were going to stop losing.
“I told him, ‘Tonight.’ ”