For the football players of Michigan City High School, their season lasted a little longer than usual. All summer long, in fact. Instead of running yards on the field, they cleaned up yards off the field for those who could not physically do it themselves.
“One of the things we try to establish is a culture of community respect and understanding—that we are responsible for each other,” Coach Phil Mason said. “And as a team we have to take care of each other. If we don’t, we won't be successful.”
Ricky and Sabrina Anderson, parents of sophomore player Raci’on, created the idea for the project. This summer, it began to propel this culture of respect and understanding.
“The community has always been behind us, no questions,” junior player Shelley Miller said. “Win or lose, they still support us. So, why not give back?”
Both Sabrina and Jennifer Heath, parent of sophomore player Matthew, manage the Rushing for Yards Facebook page and play a large part in the program.
“They [the players] need to recognize people in need. We’ve encouraged them to look over their neighbors even after this project,” Sabrina said. “They’ve made friendships they normally wouldn’t, both on the team and with people in the community.”
Every week, players, parents, coaches, and friends, jump in Sabrina’s and Jennifer’s mini-vans, tools and all, and head out to the next destination—sometimes more than twice a week. Pine Elementary School teacher Joshua Shultz, who has mentored many of the players since they were in his classroom, helped with their cause.
With 60 boys on the varsity team, Coach Mason hand selects each volunteer session. The program has encouraged players to recognize the importance of connecting outside the main field.
“This experience off the field makes us better players and teammates on the field,” senior linebacker Nate Ware said.
Junior right guard Drake Adams said the ‘off-field’ experience inspired a different level of friendship.
“It’s nice to see my teammates on another field because I’m usually playing defense against these guys.” Adams pointed to another player mowing the lawn saying, “Like him, I see him on the other side of the field all day. It’s nice to connect outside the game.”
"We are teaching the boys skills that go way beyond this project,” Heath said. “It teaches them work ethic and how to service. Some of them may have never used a lawn mower or weed wacker before.”
To Heath, the project has grown legs the team never expected to see. With a goal of volunteering at 50 different yards in the community, there was a large task at hand.
“I know there are people out there that are less fortunate, with no grandkids or family to help them out. Grass grows and someone needs to cut it,” Miller said.
Robert Jefferson, inside linebacker senior, felt the same way.
“Knowing that we are helping people who can’t do this themselves is motivating,” Jefferson said.
Despite calling the shots on the field, Coach Mason said the volunteer experience is an option for players.
“This is completely voluntary, there is no reprimand if you don’t come. It’s strictly from the heart,” Mason said. “We are creating community, togetherness, and responsibility – all the things we preach to these guys. It needs to carry into all aspects of their lives.
“We want them to conduct themselves to do this all the time,” Mason continued. “This project has been incredible. I couldn't be more proud and appreciative of what the parents have done to make this happen.”
Last Saturday, the team reached their goal of cleaning up 50 yards. Until next summer, stay up to date by liking their Rushing for Yards Facebook page here.