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Earl's Pearls: Buddy Football Inspires


By Earl Vaughan Jr.

Football players sometimes cultivate the reputation of being tough, macho men who handle anything the world dishes out and don’t waste a lot of time worrying about humanitarian pursuits.

But a closer look behind the facemasks can reveal a lot of athletes with a commitment to reaching out to assist those less fortunate. A shining example of that occurred recently when members of the Gray’s Creek High School football team showed up on a Saturday to give an assist to participants in Cumberland County’s Buddy Football program, held at the Massey Hill Recreation Center.

Buddy Football is an activity for special needs youngsters in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Christopher Woodard, who heads up the program, said it gives the participants an opportunity to take part in a sport in a team setting, have fun and enjoy themselves.

Buddy Football is open to participants of all levels of ability or disability, from those that are wheelchair bound to athletes who have physical talent but are challenged mentally to understand finer points of the sport.

They play on an outdoor field with artificial turf, roughly the size of a basketball court. The game is divided into quarters with a five-minute halftime. There’s a scoreboard and even a public address announcer.

Nicole Davis, mother of Gray’s Creek quarterback Tyler Davis, first learned of Buddy Football because the son of a friend of hers was taking part. “She had posted on Facebook that they had some volunteers come out,’’ Davis said. Davis reached out to Woodard to find out what the volunteers do.

“They are vitally important,’’ Woodard said of the volunteers. “They assist the participants, motivate them to run, enjoy celebrating touchdowns, giving high fives, cheering. The interaction gives them the extra motivation to go out and have fun.’’

Davis said volunteerism is important to her family and that she’s always looking for ways to give back to the community. She reached out to Gray’s Creek football coach Jonathan Sherman and asked him if the football team could take part.

Sherman was completely supportive and allowed all the Gray’s Creek players who wanted to take part to show up for Buddy Football wearing their school jerseys.

The players are typically paired with one or more of the Buddy Football participants then they assist them with catching and running with the ball and keep the players engaged.

“The great thing for me as a parent was to see them smiling,’’ she said of the players, “their patience, their caring really came out. You could witness that with how they interact with the special athletes. I think it was a humbling experience to appreciate the blessings they had.’’

Davis’ son, Tyler, said he had never worked with special needs youngsters before. He was surprised at how well they understood the game and how quick they were with following through on instructions. But that wasn’t the best part he said. 

“There were smiles everywhere you looked,’’ he said. “It was an awesome feeling. They were smiling and the players were smiling. It was a lot of fun.’’

Jaydon Richardson, a wide receiver for the Bears, echoed Davis’ experience. “It was almost like they were family, part of our team,’’ Richardson said of the special needs athletes. “We treated them like we would treat each other.’’

Richardson said the Bears players didn’t discuss tactics with the players. Instead, they asked the players their age, and how their day was going. “We were trying to relate to them,’’ Richardson said.

No matter how difficult the circumstances of the individual athletes, Richardson said, they all kept smiling. “They were always grateful for whatever is happening,’’ he said.

Richardson encouraged other Cumberland County high school football teams to take time to come out when they can coordinate a visit and provide support to the Buddy Football program.

“Once you get out there, it’s a whole other feeling, being able to help the kids,’’ Richardson said. “I think the best moment was being able to bond with them and the team at the same time.’’

Davis still can’t get over the joy each athlete displayed when they scored a touchdown or made a big play.

“There is not a better feeling in the world,’’ he said. 

• A trio of Cumberland County high schools were recognized by the N.C. High School Athletic Association this week for being ejection free in the previous school year.

E.E. Smith High School, Westover High School and Gray’s Creek High School all completed the year without having an athlete or coach thrown out of an athletic contest for unsportsmanlike behavior.

Each of the schools will receive a framed certificate from the NCHSAA in recognition of the achievement.

Former Terry Sanford pitcher D.J. Herz has been honored for his outstanding performance this past season in the Chicago Cubs minor league system.
Herz finished the year with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in Class A.
Herz was named the winner of the Vedie Himsl Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for the Cubs.
During his time at Myrtle Beach, Herz was 3-4 with a 3.43 earned run average. The lefthander pitched in 65.2 innings and recorded 105 strikeouts while yielding 38 walks.
His WHIP, which is a measure of how well he kept runners off the bases, was 1.07. A WHIP is 1.10 or lower is considered great.

Members of the Gray's Creek High School football team pose with Buddy Football participants at Massey Hill Recreation Center. The Gray's Creek players who took part include the following:

Tyler Davis
Tucker Davis
Dontavius Cross
Christian Cox
Zavier Barrett
Derek Smith
Tsion Brown
Jake Bill
Elijah Wilson
Daran Miller
Talon Blacker
Keith Stephens
Amari Strang
Christian Walker
Jaydon Richardson
Dallas Bailey
Julian Florez
Adrian Florez