PLYMOUTH, Mich. – On a Friday night every summer, the Plymouth High School Wildcats hold a special practice on the football field.
The PCEP varsity football players pair up with younger children, guiding them through non-contact football drills including passing, catching and blocking.
The Sunshine's Skills and Drills Football Clinic is in its fourth year. The evening camp was the idea of Connor Sherman. The first clinic was held in 2014, based on an idea Sherman came up with in his fourth-grade class at Workman Elementary School.
During Genius Hour, a session held at the school, students could come up with ideas to change the world in any way they could.
"My passion was football, and me and my family decided to come up with the football clinic for special needs kids, and that's how it really all started," Sherman said.
Sherman enlisted the help of Brian Rochon, a Pioneer Middle School teacher and one of the coaches for the Plymouth High School football team, to make his vision a reality.
Each child who participates in Sherman's clinic is paired with a football player who takes them through drills one on one. They also receive a T-shirt, a participation trophy and get to enjoy pizza after the playing finishes.
"I think that is unbelievable that a fourth-grade kid came up with this concept," said Mike Sawchuk, the head football coach. "My favorite moment of the night is when I get to walk around and watch all the kids interact at all the stations, and watch the smiles on their face and watch the smiles on all the kids' faces."
Volunteering their time
The high school football players volunteer their time year after year for the clinic.
"I get to go around and experience the camp with one of my own personal buddies, so it's just me and him the whole time," Zach Beadle, the Wildcats quarterback, said. "It feels really good to give back to all these kids."
This is wide receiver Andrew Neal's third year volunteering for the clinic.
"Here at Plymouth, we build a culture and it's like family. And especially on the football team, and just to be able to share that camaraderie and the love that we share within our team mates, and extend that to the community, it's a great opportunity for all of us," Neal said.
"We get a lot more out of it than the kids do. It's a life-changing experience honestly," Neal continued. "It's just, we're so blessed, and it sometimes goes unnoticed and we wake up and we complain about having workouts and having to go to practice, and these kids wake up and some of them can't dress themselves, some of them can't do everyday things we do that we may take for granted. These kids may never be able to do (those things) in their entire lives, so its a great opportunity for us."
Selflessness, commitment, service
Rochon said the football players benefit from participating. He said one of the cornerstones of their football program is selflessness, as well as commitment and service.
"We've seen some tangible benefits in our kids, both not only as football players, but as young men, and as coaches, that's really our main job is to help turn boys into young men that are going to be successful fathers and husbands and employees and members of the community," Rochon said.
"It teaches me how to be a better person," Wildcats linebacker Artis Jackson said.
Cheri Williams' son Tony participates every year.
"I'm just very thankful that Connor thought of this four years ago just as a 10-year-old and it's impacting all of these kids and having the kids enjoy their own version of football camp," Williams said. "It means a lot for your child to be able to do something that you wish they could do in a typical setting and they maybe aren't able to. For them to be exposed to it in a program like this, where you've got high school football players who are just treating them as one of the guys and they get to score touchdowns and do blocking drills and agility drills and have fun and feel successful, it means a lot as a parent to see your child smiling, enjoying being successful at a sport that everybody loves."
The clinic is free and relies on sponsors and donations to operate. Anyone interested to learn more about the program can click here.
To help, you can also email Brian Rochon firstname.lastname@example.org.