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Friday night greats begin as Friday morning mentors

posted Jan 19, 2017, 9:04 AM by Greg Shull
Shelby High Football is known for hardnosed football and electrifying plays. What you may not know is that the team attributes much of their character growth to the students at Jefferson Elementary, where they invest Friday mornings as mentors.

The “Football Buddies” mentor program brings both the high school and elementary students together for a win-win experience according to Laura Rucker, a speech language pathologist and Football Buddies program advocate at Jefferson Elementary

“Every Friday something magical happens, said Rucker. “The [elementary] students see these boys as stars, as big as any pro-bowl player. The players learn that the responsibility of being a Shelby High Golden Lion extends way beyond the hash marks on the field.”

Football Buddies travel across town to connect with students in the classroom by assisting with math homework, reading with and listening to young readers. They accompany the elementary students to lunch, and intercepting a variety of other tasks that are thrown their way throughout the visits.

Third Grader Rowan said, “they encourage me to better on multiplication and reading.” 
As every class has a Football Buddy, the impact of this program is experienced throughout the entire school. 

“It creates a different energy in our building,” said Katie Barbee, principal at Jefferson Elementary. “It creates a different atmosphere, and you can feel it throughout the school.”

Strategic on-field coaching and elite athleticism have led the team to back-to-back-to-back-to-back state football championships, but character coaching combined with heartfelt mentorships have created a prideful bond between students of all ages in Shelby, North Carolina. According to Mrs. Rucker, respect, honesty, and integrity are modeled by the team as traits of good sportsmanship, allowing the team to flex their role model muscles.

“In the eyes of young students, winning and losing are less important than the time spent showing these eager minds how to play the game of life,” added Rucker.

Aaron Jolly, a defensive back at Shelby High explained, “It makes me happy to see that I make the kids better and make an impact on them by making sure they are working and have a better future.”

Coach Lance Ware visits with the elementary students often providing an additional layer of support as the head football coach of the Shelby Golden Lions.

“I think our kids benefit from it as much as their kids,” said Ware. “For our guys to see the impact they have on young people and hopefully encourage them to do well, this sense of community and giving back is what we’re all about.”

“I like supporting this program, inspiring the kids, and giving them something positive to look up to,” said C.J. Ross a defensive back with Shelby High.”

As we are certain the lights will continue to burn bright at Shelby High on Friday nights during football season, it is important to remember that their lights are even brighter in the early morning as the team passes their winning ways to future Golden Lions.

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