By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
High school coaches must set an example for players in maintaining the proper perspective and values. Making community service a priority is a good way to show there are things more important than football.
A New Priority
When Tim Ward took over the Heath High (Ohio) job in May, he took a moment to assess the foundation of the program.
“I decided one of the big things we were missing was community service,” Ward said. “We were strong in our foundation of integrity, family, school and football. The community gives us so much with parents coming to games and feeding us meals. What were we doing for the community?”
Ward had served as an assistant coach at Heath for 13 years, so he developed a strong sense of adoration for the fans that support the program. Still, he felt with some more outreach in the community, the relationship could be even stronger.
“I view it as something that we’re all in this together,” Ward said. “When we give back to the community, the community wants to give us more. It’s not that we do it to get something in return. But when we get involved with parents in the community, the next thing you know their kids are coming to our games. That builds a sense of community. It breeds positivity.”
Ward wanted to see his players have more of a presence in the community, so his first service commitment was to have the entire team participate in a 5K charity race. The cause was finding a cure for childhood cancer, and an elementary school teacher in the district organized the race for her sister.
The Heath players participated in the race after a scrimmage in August. They raised more than $500 as a team.
“Half of the team ran the full three miles after a scrimmage,” Ward said. “I think a lot of people in the community were impressed.”
Heath High players have also donated their time at the youth football level. The players run the chains during games, organize the players in the huddle, and hold youth camps.
“The kids are required to participate in youth football events, but it’s something they’ve grown to love doing anyway,” Ward said. “It bridges the gap between youth football and the high school program. I think those youth players will be more likely to play in high school after having that experience with our players. But it benefits us too. Any service we can provide in the community makes us better people.”
The Bulldog Service Tree
Ward put a Christmas tree in his classroom this year in hopes of motivating his students to think about community service. Students could place tags on the tree to reserve donations to needy elementary school students in the district.
Heath High students placed more than 200 tags on the tree, reserving gifts for 150 students.
“We opened it to the entire high school,” Ward said. “We donated coats, gloves, school supplies, toys. The football team and the cheerleaders helped wrap gifts, and we took over 10 boxes to students in need.”
The donations didn’t stop there. In November, Heath High students also set a goal to provide Thanksgiving day meals to families in need. They raised enough money to provide 20 meals to local families. A local business also partnered with Heath High in the spirit of the Bulldog Service Tree and handed out vouchers for hams and turkeys before Christmas.
“Our team found families that needed Christmas meals, and we provided them,” Ward said. “It’s our way of giving back to the community that gives us so much.”
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