The high school football season can be a long and grueling one. In 2015, the OSSAA required teams to add a bye week to their schedule in order to give players a brief respite. Teams often use this break to allow players to heal from injuries or possibly add new wrinkles to their offensive and defensive playbooks.
Broken Arrow High School has an annual tradition on the Thursday of bye week where they load up the team bus after practice and head over to Nienhuis Park to spend quality time with players and coaches in the city’s youth football program.
“When I got the job is right when they started having this bye week in the middle of the season,” said Tigers head coach David Alexander. “Now you have 11 weeks to play 10 games. We’re just trying to find a way for our kids to give back to the community. It just makes perfect sense. I remember what my kids felt like when they saw a high school football player they were watching on Fridays, you know, in person without a helmet on.”
“It’s really fun to work with the kids, said senior Tyler Crawford. “You know, they look up to you. You feel like a leader out here and really feel like we keep their spirits up. I remember as a little kid and they would come and I just loved it. These kids touch your heart sometimes.”
The kids may be a little awestruck at first, but it doesn’t take long before they’re trying to impress the high school players.
“I remember when I was in INFC doing this kind of stuff and the kids in high school would come,” added senior Bryce Mattioda. “It was just a fun time and you would want to just show out for them. You know they look up to you. It means a lot, especially coming to help these kids and teach them some stuff like we do.”
“When you’re 9, 10, 11 years old, you’re dreaming about getting out there on Tiger Field,” said Alexander, who led Broken Arrow to the 6A-I state championship last season. “You see these guys, and they’re big and they’re almost grown and some of them have got whiskers and beards. It is a big deal.”
Senior Andrew Raym is regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the country, and he still fondly remembers what it was like to meet high school players when he was a kid.
“I always kind of thought they were like super heroes because they were just so much bigger,” remarked Raym, who now checks in at six-foot-five and 285 pounds. “That was cool having them around.”
Individual drills soon turn into games of dogpile as the kids all try to tackle the high school players.
“It means everything to them, said Shawn Duffey, coach of the Broken Arrow Black third grade team. “That’s their mentors, people they look up to and watch on Friday nights. That’s what they live for, you know. They look up to these guys.”
On this particular night, the high school players and youth players start off a little bashful around each other, but it doesn’t take long before they’re laughing and joking around.
“I just tell them to go pat those kids on the head,” chuckled Alexander. “It’s funny. Our kids are just as nervous as the little kids, but once they get in the drills and say hi to the kids, they’re fine. It’s good for my high school kids and it’s good for the little kids.”
“Keep working hard, love the game and have fun,” said Mattiado, when asked what they were telling the kids. “That’s the main goal is to have fun.”
“We’re just out here hyping them up,” said Raym, “Making them enjoy football a little bit more.”