Athletes are able to connect with those participating in the Special Olympics
Jackson Kaplan, Staff Writer
The Wingate University football program hosted its 13th annual Special Olympics Football Field Day at Irwin Belk Stadium and John R. Martin Field Saturday. With the conclusion of pre-season camp and the home/season opener one week away, this is a unique opportunity for each of the student-athletes to give back to their Bulldog faithful.
WU offensive coordinator Mike Long takes great pride in organizing this event each year. “This is a great way for our guys to interact with the community,” Long says. “It is our end-of-camp tradition. Our players and coaches do a phenomenal job making our visiting Olympians feel welcome.”
The event includes three different interactive stations in which the participants engage: quarterback throwing accuracy, running back footwork and speed and defensive tackling. Each player and coach had a smile on his face throughout the entire day as they created a personal relationship with each of the Olympians. Redshirt senior defensive end and team captain Andre Foulks (York, S.C.) reflected on this unique experience as he enters his final season in a Bulldog uniform.
“This is a way for us to get the community involved in what we are doing,” Foulks says. “We love being around these guys…I believe we get as excited as they do. It is a good way to cap off a hard pre-season camp.” Foulks is a pre-season first team All-South Atlantic Conference selection. He received first team all-conference honors at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
“It is always great to reach out,” Foulks says. “We are thrilled to have the Olympians here and see how excited they are about football. It gives us a lot of motivation and makes us realize how truly blessed we are to play this game.”
The upperclassmen members of the team stood with the Field Day participants as they joyfully engaged in the activities and created excitement for the athletes. The freshmen student-athletes took on the role as the “hype team” and stood up in the visitors’ bleachers to cheer on the men and women participating in the stations and drills. The younger student-athletes created their own cheers and kept extremely high spirits throughout the day.
During the course of the event, the Olympians would occasionally run over to the freshman hype section to do a dance in front of them. This gave each of the Wingate student-athletes much delight…everyone had the time of their lives.
All of the long hours, early mornings, late evenings and rigorous workouts of pre-season camp has come to a close and the start of the 2016 campaign is quickly approaching. Wingate head football coach Joe Reich particularly enjoys this day as a reward for his team’s hard work.
“We have always preached in our program that we are an extension of the educational experience here,” Reich says. “(The Special Olympics Field Day) is a great chance for our guys to give back and to learn about service. It is always refreshing to see the Special Olympics athletes and their families have such a good time every year. This is an awesome, feel-good experience for our players to take a little break after pre-season camp and have some fun.”
It is a fun-filled day for everyone involved in the 13th annual Wingate University Special Olympics Football Field Day. The event has become a strong tradition within the Bulldog football program each season and has evolved tremendously over the years. “It is a humbling experience for our team,” Reich says. “This is real-life and this is what it is all about. We believe this teaches our guys there is more to life outside of football. Life is not perfect all the time and it is rewarding to see how happy these Olympians and their families are each year. Mike Long does a phenomenal job setting everything up…he was the one who gave us the idea of giving back to the community.”
Long coordinates many of the WU football community service events along with this day, including the student-athletes reading to elementary school students and visiting the children’s hospitals. “It teaches our guys to be a part of something bigger than them,” Long says. “I enjoy this day a lot and it has become more self-running over time.
Our players and coaches do all the hard work and they do a terrific job. It is another way to signify the beginning of the season and for our guys to interact with our community outside of football.”
The Wingate University Bulldogs football team will commence their 2016 season next Saturday (Sept. 3) when they host the Golden Bulls of Johnson C. Smith University at Irwin Belk Stadium and John R. Martin Field. The University will hold its fifth annual Tailgating for the Troops Project as the special promotion for next weekend’s gridiron match-up. Kick-off is slated for 1:30 p.m. with the contest airing on ESPN3.
Edited by: Sara Gunter