SHELBY – Shelby Golden Lions football is a big deal in Cleveland County, which sits about an hour west of Charlotte. With success comes a lot of eyeballs, and the Golden Lions are drawing the attention of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association — for the good things the team is doing off the field.
Through the “Football Buddies” program with Jefferson Elementary School, now in its third year, Shelby football seniors make a positive impact on the children in their community. Each Friday, the high school seniors head to nearby Jefferson Elementary, where they’re each assigned a classroom.
The players spend time in the classroom with the students and help them to connect with their learning environment while modeling what it looks like to be a champion in the classroom and on the football field. Throughout the year, the Lions players, or “buddies” as they are better known, spend time getting to know and building personal relationships with the elementary-aged students.
“It creates a different energy in our building,” said Jefferson Elementary Principal Katie Barbee. “It creates a different atmosphere in our building and you can feel it throughout the school.”
Aaron Jolley, senior defensive back, believes he benefits from the program as well.
“It makes me happy to see that I make the kids better, that I make an impact on them,” Jolley said. “ I just make sure that they’re working and that they have a better future.”
One of the highlights of the mentorship for third-grade teacher Gracie Bankhead was when she had a chance to catch up with former student, Isaiah Etchison.
“When I saw his name, I remembered his sweet little face when I taught him,” Bankhead said. “It has been rewarding for me as I see him come full circle and now be a role model for my current students.”
Head Coach Lance Ware recognizes the many positive impacts of a program like “Football Buddies.”
“I think our kids benefit from it as much as the younger kids,” Ware said. “Our guys to see the impact that they have on younger people, and hopefully encourage them to do well. It is a sense of community, a sense of giving back, and that is what we’re all about.”
The #SportsmanshipTogether series follows examples of good sportsmanship and programs doing things the right way in an effort to highlight the positive things seen across the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. If you see an example of excellent sportsmanship at an NCHSAA member school or event, contact James Alverson at firstname.lastname@example.org.