FAYETTEVILLE — Head football coach John Limbaugh is not only teaching his players the importance of displaying character on the field, but also in the halls of the school.
“Future Wolves” is part of Limbaugh’s overall program that provides student athletes the opportunity to participate in a kindergarten through third-grade reading program, while at the same time being positive role models for younger students.
“The aim is to show these students that succeeding in class, having good conduct and being a positive person is central to being a Future Wolves athlete,” Limbaugh said.
“Our overall goal is toward excellence and includes the whole person — body, soul and spirit.”
Fayetteville’s administrators believe the program is a good way for the older students to be positive role models to the elementary children at the school.
“Young athletes think others measure them on the field, the playing time, but by wearing a football jersey, kids look at the decisions they make and how they treat others,” assistant principal Scarlet Thomas said. “Young kids are always watching.”
“For us it’s win-win for both sides,” first-grade teacher Marcy Darden said. “The little kids look up to high school kids and it makes them feel special that the football players take an interest in them.”
Thomas and Darden agree that being a K-12 school gives Fayetteville an advantage.
“It is good for the older guys to see the younger kids looking up to them. They will wave at them in the hall and high-five ‘em,” kindergarten teacher Vanessa Arant said.
The athletes are enjoying the program and getting to interact with the elementary students.
“You’re not just walking down the hall, but are a role model and that makes you feel pretty good,” junior center/nose guard Blake Autrey said.
Aaron Laster, senior wide receiver and corner back, said he enjoys the opportunity to inspire the younger kids.
Thomas said the players visit the elementary classrooms on Fridays on a rotating schedule. The athletes are instructed to select a grade-appropriate book, read it three times before going to the class and when they read the book to the class, they hold it so the students can see the pictures. Reading sessions do not exceed 15 minutes.
Autrey, son of Brett and Donna Autrey of Fayetteville, said he was concerned about getting the attention of Darden’s first-grade students. He said he relaxed when the class started laughing and it actually helped him.
“Blake came in with his football jersey and the kids were excited, but he took over and worked his magic,” Darden said.
Laster, son of Glenn and Renee Laster of Fayetteville, said he was apprehensive about going into the kindergarten class.
“I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought maybe they’d be hyper, but they were well behaved.” he said.
Laster read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and said he remembered to show the class the pictures.
Arant said a major benefit is that the younger students make the connection of how important it is to learn to read.
“Even a star football player has to be able to read,” Arant said.
Limbaugh hopes the program is one way he is able to positively affect the lives of his players.
“People have asked, ‘How many games are you going to win?’ I respond, ‘33,’” Limbaugh said, “We have 33 players and if we can teach them to be better husbands, better fathers, that is how many wins we will have.”
Part of Limbaugh’s plan includes involving the whole community, even on Friday evenings. “It is all about the whole community, and we can’t forget that the elementary kids are our future.”
Limbaugh said he also hopes the program will help groom young students for participating in future athletic programs.
“We believe that the goal of future participation in our athletic program will help these students both socially and academically,” he said.
Contact Mark Ledbetter at firstname.lastname@example.org.