Panther players deliver cheer to Charleton Methodist patients

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The Panther football team paid a visit to patients at Charleton Hospital. During thier rounds they heard stories from old times with patients such as Mr. Melvin. (Jamia Brooks photo)

Big and tough football players are not what many would associate with soft, cuddly welcoming stuffed animals. But as the school bus sways side-to-side more than 40 players gathered early Saturday morning on a bus to deliver cheer and happiness to patients at Charleton Methodist Hospital. On the surface the teddy bear collection project appears to be about how many stuffed animals the players could gather. But for head coach Jeff Dicus and his staff it is about more than just collecting stuffed animals and visiting the hospital.

“Our focus is about turning our boys into responsible young men. It’s important that they learn it’s not all about football,” coach Stacy Atkins said. “Giving back to the community is just as significant.”

When the athletes gathered in front of Sandra Meadows to board their bus, they all had a different perspective on the task ahead of them. Freshman Hunter Childress was just happy to have the opportunity to be an inspiration to other people.

“Seeing the smiles on face of the patients when they receive their teddy bear is the best part of this project,” Childress said.

Upon arriving to the hospital the team gathered for a group picture and a small speech made by junior Gerry Gallimore who presented Charleton Community Relations director Ms. Cynthia Mickens-Smith with a plaque for her service to the community. The players were then off to visit patients. The first group visited Bob Watson, who suffers from complications with a weakening immunity system. He shared memories of playing high school football back in his younger days when discrimination played a major role in games. As he looked around at all the different faces in the small room, Watson recalled being one of the few Whites on his team while the majority were Black or Hispanic.

“In high school sports back in my day, you know the black people couldn’t even get a start in sports. I had to learn to speak Espanol just to play,” Watson said. “I encourage you fellows to pay attention to the world today as it will soon change for the better, and today’s youth will want to remember how far things have come.”

Junior Arturo Zapata took Watson’s talk to heart as he left the room headed to the next patient.

“What he said was very inspiring because he’s been through a lot and he pretty much went through what we experience as kids,” Zapata said. “He gave us little ups and downs about his life and showed us what was right and what was wrong. He encouraged us to keep our focus and reach our goals.”

The teams finished their rounds delivering stuffed animals and gathered on the main floor to leave. As junior Arturo signs his form for community service he reads aloud the section labeled Brief Purpose of today’s event.

“We are here to create responsible students to go out and help make society a better place,” he read as he nodded his head in approval of the deed completed.

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