On the football field, members of the Center Grove High School team rely on each other to successfully move the ball down the field, defend against the opponents and ultimately win.
But that trust has been forged by their actions off the field.
The team comes together for fellowship, meeting every week for a Bible study and emphasizing community service in an effort to excel in all areas of life. That spirit was behind the football camp for children with special needs conducted Wednesday at the high school with Easter Seals.
“Half the community comes out to watch us every Friday night. Why can’t we give something back to them now, especially to people who don’t have this kind of mobility?” said Luke Calvert, a senior quarterback for the team.
The seniors have started a Bible study that meets every week. Team leaders thought it would be beneficial to weave their religious beliefs in with their football activities.
“It makes us better people,” said Dillon Dallas, a senior defensive lineman. “We’re doing the right thing at the right time.”
They gather at one of the players’ houses to eat dinner, discuss the Bible and figure out ways to apply the night’s lesson to their lives. The sessions have a light-hearted feel of friends gathering together but also bring a seriousness that all of the members share to get something meaningful from it.
From those fellowship sessions, the team has started looking for ways to serve the community.
“You talk about the word ‘service’ over and over again. It’s really easy to talk about and put ideas down, but when you take steps to serve others that’s when you’re putting your words in action to do something about it,” Calvert said.
Underclassmen, including the incoming freshmen, also have formed their own groups that meet weekly. They have organized service trips to provide food to the needy and have gone to nursing homes to visit with residents.
The idea to do a football camp for disabled children through CampAbility was borne initially from this commitment to volunteerism. The incoming freshmen had the initial idea, and since many of the players have previous experience working with special needs children, the team built off of that.
Dallas’ mother works with kids with disabilities in the Indianapolis Public Schools system, and he has been involved in the Best Buddies program at Center Grove.
Senior Keegan McFatridge has helped fill backpacks for families in need in the Center Grove area and has traveled to Haiti to work with children through his church’s mission program.
Lane Morris, a senior running back, has volunteered to mentor a younger student with Down syndrome. He also has worked with the Bargersville Fire Department on a program to help prevent children with special needs, such as autism, from wandering off and getting lost.
“You feel for them. Some of them are neglected, and some of them aren’t as fortunate as us. You just need to comfort them and make them feel normal when maybe they don’t always feel normal,” Morris said.
The camp was intended for the kids. But helping the campers get excited and enjoy the experience was also important for the players, senior wide receiver Matt O’Brien said.
The opportunity allowed them to run around alongside their campers, diving after footballs, helping them throw and scoring a touchdown.
“My guy was really excited to try on a football helmet. He felt like he was a football player. That was cool,” senior safety Alex Auckerman said.
Senior players wanted to come back next summer if Center Grove does the camp again. They recognized that as athletes they have a gift that others don’t have. Any way they can share that, they want to help, Calvert said.
“Before the camp, we were out there running on the track. Then we get out here, and there’s these people in their wheelchairs, working hard,” he said. “That was them running. They may not be taking steps, but that’s them being athletes. It’s cool to see that.”