The Braves Buddies initiative was created and launched in the fall of 2015, when the former Senior Woman Administrator was responsible for the coordination of all the university’s athletic teams.
After she left the institution, Megan Sanger inherited the responsibility of the program’s construction. Sanger is the current Senior Woman Administrator and Assistant Athletics Director for Compliance and Administration. It began as a pilot program at Pembroke Elementary.
The department hopes to expand its reach to other schools in the Robeson County area in the future. The goal of the program is to create a strategic plan where the athletic department can interact with local schools to promote the significance of leadership, literacy, mentorship and fitness in local public schools.
Fullback Tyrone Young reads to a group of 1st graders as part of the Braves Buddies initiative. Photo by UNCP Athletics
Reading has become secondary in many households, due to busy schedules and a multitude of extenuating circumstances in their parents’ lives. Playing video games and watching television have become more prevalent in its stead.
Each of the university’s athletic teams, and the Spirit Squad, are required to participate in the program in accordance with their in-season and off-season schedules. These students make two visits to the school over the course of the school year.
“It’s a great opportunity to reach out for community service and actually help teach kids positive things and to really just give them that enjoyment and show positivity through school and inspiring them,” fullback Tyrone Young said.
He enjoys observing the different personalities among the youth. He fondly reminisces on times when he was in their shoes, looking up to the older generation of athletes.
Young genuinely loves engaging and interacting with the next potential generation of Braves, outside of his obligations as a business major to accumulate community service hours and the team’s requirement to participate in the program. When the program first started, student athletes would visit second grade classrooms to promote higher self-esteem and increasing literacy rates.
This also ignited a sense of pride in community outreach for the participants. In an effort to emphasize and express the program’s motives at an earlier stage, it was implemented and offered to first grade students.
“I really felt the need to go down a level to help with the reading, spelling, and the excitement about learning really happens earlier than what second grade was and that the first graders would really get more out of the Braves Buddies program,” Sanger said.
Braves Buddies participants at a local school. Photo by UNCP Athletics
The athletes engage in activities that simultaneously incorporate fitness and a comprehensive skill, such as counting to 100 in multiples of one, 10 and 20 while doing exercise. The wrestling team recently made one of their visits and did jumping jacks with the first graders as they were learning their new compound words.
“They can do anything from arts and crafts with coloring and matching words, to simple math and it’s just kind of making learning fun,” Sager added. The children get the most excited when the football and men’s basketball teams come to visit often because of their shear size alone.
These gladiators of the gridiron and warriors on the hardwood become gentle giants in the eyes of the younger generation. This gives them inspiration and shows them concrete evidence of who they can be when they apply themselves in sports, as well as in the classroom.
The directors of the program hope the mentorship from the athletes incites enthusiasm for literacy. They also want to reinforce the importance of long term fitness through student athletes. The mentorship shows that the second graders can make it to college if they excel in athletics and academics.
“It’s really important to me to be able to give back to the community,” quarterback Dominick Samson said. “The kids look up to us a lot as football players and get really excited when we walk in so it’s pretty fun.”
“I’ve always loved working with kids and for a while I even thought about being a teacher,” he said. “We’re just in such a good position in this community where people look up to us, so just to be able to give back is a blessing.”
Samson said being involved with programs like Brave Buddies helped him become a better leader on and off the field. He said the coaching staff challenged him to step into a more prominent leadership role this off-season, so giving back to the community is a way of achieving that.
The department’s next step in their strategic plan of action is to expand the reach of the Braves Buddies initiative so it can influence more local schools.