Team spends Fridays mentoring youth
Many athletic teams do group service activities around their local communities, but Augustana football is stepping up its game.
For the past two years, every Friday night before home games and several other Friday nights throughout the year, a number of Augustana football players visit The Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire to mentor and spend time with their younger fans.
Defensive coordinator Brian Bergstrom said former players A.J. Scarborough and Cole Snyder started the initiative for continued involvement with the club because they wanted to use their platform as college athletes to possibly impact the community. Rather than simply organizing a one-time visit, this initiative turned into a regular interaction that the kids and players look forward to.
Bergstrom said the players understand that they can influence the lives of kids within the community through their conduct on and off the field. He said they see volunteer service as their duty as college athletes—giving back for the opportunity they have been given.
Lisa Verdin, marketing and personal relations director for the Boys and Girls Club, noted that “whether it’s tossing around a football, playing basketball or just reading a book together, [the] kids look forward to Augie Fridays at the club and ask daily if it’s the day the players are coming.”
Everyone involved with the partnership agreed that the players are great positive role models for the kids.
Verdin added that the team has a big impact on the children of the Boys and Girls Club.
“Getting attention from the Augie athletes benefits kids by providing them with another caring adult in their lives…there’s no such thing as too many positive role models when it comes to children,” she said.
Not only did the staff of the Boys and Girls Club note the impact the team has had, but the team itself is grateful for the opportunity to serve. Head Coach Jerry Olszewski said he understands that life—including football—is about balance. He said there is more to being a contributing member of the community than just playing well on the field, and, that if the coaching staff can teach the players to “be a part of something bigger than themselves,” then that is what they will do.
The players agreed, taking the experience as a way to give back to the community that supports them. Redshirt freshmen Brett Shepley and Michael Kloza both recognized that service is an important piece of their careers as collegiate athletes.
Kloza said this opportunity to serve has been a learning experience for him as well.
“Sometimes we take what we have for granted, and volunteering to help benefit others really puts life into perspective for me,” he said.
Kloza added that he doesn’t think that he would have had the same opportunity to serve in this capacity with many other Division II football programs around the country because the Augustana team puts such an emphasis on balancing service and the actual playing of the game.
Olszewski said he views this opportunity as a win-win.
“There are so many lessons in athletics that directly relate to life,” he said. “The lessons of work ethic, determination, teamwork, selflessness, confidence and communication all lead to a successful life [for the players] as well.”
The team hoped that in showing their service, “the rest of the community will see that anyone can have an impact on another’s life in a positive way, you just have to step out of your comfort zone a little bit to do so,” Kloza said.