BUCKHANNON -- The West Virginia Wesleyan College Bobcat Football Team has had a busy spring. Aside from normal classes and spring training, the 78-player team has logged more than 400 community service hours in and around Upshur County since January 4, 2016.
When Head Coach Del Smith '05 returned to Wesleyan to lead the Bobcats at the turn of the semester, he saw a spark of interest for community service within the team members.
"When I interviewed, there were some team leaders in that group that made it pretty clear that they wanted community service as a part of this program," Coach Smith stated. "They wanted to use it as a way to engage. Every recruit knows about our responsibility to the College, program, and community. We want the community to feel that connection."
Under the guidance of Tony Testa '07, assistant football coach and director of operations, the team has a 100% participation rate within their service programs, which includes partnering with the Center for Community Engagement & Leadership Development (CCE) and WE LEAD student leaders on Get Up and Get Moving and Drop Out Prevention Day, as well as work with the Parish House, and World Vision.
Get Up and Get Moving is a program managed by the CCE's WE LEAD team that encompasses Union, Rock Cave, and Tennerton Elementary Schools. The program, which involves 30-70 elementary students each week, coincides with the NFL Play 60 Program and encourages youth to learn the importance of staying active and moving for at least one hour a day. These students are taught about smart snacking and eating habits, as well as personal and dental hygiene. Testa said the relationship the team has built with these schools has been invaluable for everyone involved.
"When you walk into a school with a jersey on, you have already reached rock star status," commented Smith. "With that comes tremendous responsibility. Our interaction with a student could change their outlook. Interaction can be powerful if managed in the right way."
"Get Up and Get Moving is a great platform to promote wellness," commented Testa, "but students look forward to the interaction."
The Bobcats have also been busy working with Pastor Ed McDaniels '79 and Christian Fellowship Church, the Upshur Parish House, and Serenity Care Home. The team has also partnered with the CCE's WE LEAD student leaders to help with Drop Out Prevention Day, a one-day event on campus that encourages the youth of the county to look at continuing their education after high school.
Another blossoming partnership is with World Vision. With the CCE's help, not only did the football team pack boxes during the organization's Martin Luther King Day food drive, but they also traveled to the Philippi warehouse where they worked alongside the World Vision Appalachia workers.
"I'm a big idea guy," stated Smith. "I put Coach Testa in charge, and everyone on the staff gets involved. I always say that whatever you get, accept it and excel at it. Tony has put in an extraordinary number of hours on these projects."
"It's extremely easy to do," responded Testa. "Our students are owning it. It's not a choice; they want to do this."
Next year, Smith is hoping to expand the team's community service reach to build a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Since the team will be on the field the majority of the fall season, he believes that they could manage a service project during the team's bi-week. Smith also stated that a one-day free youth clinic could be in the works.
"Part of the reward of community service is fostering the relationships," Smith stated, "and that takes time."
"Our students have done a great job," Testa said. "Schools will call and specifically ask for our players to visit. They offer them free lunches just to come hang out with the kids. Having the ability to build these relationships for health and fitness and seeing the impacts is huge for our guys."
For more information, please contact the Office of Athletics at (304) 473-8098.