September 6, 2011

Tech soccer committed to service at local elementary school

Golden Eagle players a weekly presence at Parkview

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — Parkview Elementary School teacher Lori White knew her second-graders had taken to the Tennessee Tech soccer players who regularly help out in her classroom when she began to notice the athletes becoming sought-after lunch company.

Like most teachers at Parkview, White utilizes the services of the Golden Eagle soccer players who serve at the school to help her with making copies, grading papers and organizing her classroom.

But she ventures to say that one of the most valuable products of the student-athletes’ service at the Cookeville elementary school is less tangible.

“The kids love the soccer girls,” she says. “They’ll stick around with them at lunchtime and talk to them, bond with them over lunch.”

While there certainly is nothing out of the ordinary about collegiate student-athletes performing community service, the Tennessee Tech soccer team does things a little bit differently.

Since the arrival of second-year head coach Daniel Brizard, the Golden Eagles have made a special commitment to Parkview. Soccer players come to the school several times a week during the preseason, then spend several hours in their assigned classrooms each week for the remainder of the school year.

Their job is, quite literally, to do anything and everything asked of them.

“I gave the principal carte blanche on whatever he needed,” Brizard says of his team’s relationship with the school. “If they need someone to sweep the hallways, that’s what we’re there to do, to help this school out.”

In reality, the tasks the student-athletes most regularly perform range from secretarial duties to helping children on an individual basis to simply being an ear for a child practicing reading.

The result of a standing commitment from one team to one school is familiarity, a family-like atmosphere that senior defender Lindsey Reed says is a special one.

“I feel like we make a huge difference,” says Reed. “The kids are so great to actually know and spend time with. It’s so helpful to go and be with one classroom and build a relationship with the kids. I think it’s good for them to see a role model that is not only playing a sport, but going to school and getting that degree.”

Though he is responsible for establishing the Tech team’s relationship with Parkview, Brizard says he can’t take credit for the idea — he picked it up at a previous coaching stop and decided to give it a try in Cookeville.

“We used to do this at one of the other schools I was at,” he says. “I saw such a positive impact in the community as well as with the teams I had been working for. We’re fortunate enough to play college soccer and have some advantages in life, and some kids need a little extra help to see that they can do these same things our players are doing.”

Prior to the start of their own academic year, the team travels to Parkview as a unit for an introduction and their first service sessions. When Tech is in session, the players settle into an individual schedule of when they spend their time at the elementary school. 

Generally, two or three athletes are assigned to a particular teacher.

“It has meant a lot to us,” says Parkview principal Bobby Winningham. “It takes a little of the pressure of the daily routine away from the teachers, and the girls have been wonderful in all they’ve done for us. We’ve never had a group come in and make the kind of commitment to volunteering with us that they have.”

Each athlete has her own individual Parkview experience. For example, Reed spent most of the 2010-11 year working with preschoolers, spending most of her time in close contact with the kids.

While she enjoyed the experience, she hopes to use her Spanish knowledge to work with the school’s ESL program this year.

While the student-athlete’s experiences may differ, it’s the commitment and continuity they experience in serving at Parkview that Brizard believes is most valuable.

“A lot of kids can go and read to a school for a half-hour, and I think that’s a great thing to do,” he says. “But I think to have an impact in a student’s life over a long period of time is much more rewarding, not only for the student or teacher, but for our student-athletes.

“I had some girls who thought they never liked kids, and they can’t wait to go back every week. The kids look forward to our girls coming in their class, and that’s a really rewarding experience.”