#SPORTSMANSHIPTOGETHER: Shelby football reaches out to local elementary school with mentor program

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SHELBY, N.C. – Shelby Golden Lions football is a big deal in Cleveland County. It should be, considering they’ve won four straight state championships. With success comes a lot of eyeballs, and the Golden Lions are drawing attention for a lot of very good reasons.

Through the “Football Buddies” program with Jefferson Elementary School, now in its third year, the Shelby football seniors make a positive impact on the children in their community. Each Friday, the seniors head over to Jefferson Elementary, where they are each assigned a classroom.

The players spend time in the classroom with the students and help connect with their learning environment while modeling what it looks like to be a champion in the classroom and on the football field. The Lions players, or “buddies” as they are known, spend time in the cafeteria with their classes, they talk and get to know each student throughout the year, building personal relationships with the kids.

Jefferson Elementary Principal Katie Barbee said, “It creates a different energy in our building. It creates a different atmosphere in our building and you can feel it throughout the school.”

Senior Defensive Back, Aaron Jolley, noted that he gets a benefit out of the program as well “It makes me happy to see that I make the kids better, that I make an impact on them. I just make sure that they’re working, and that they have a better future.”

A third grade teacher at Jefferson, Gracie Bankhead, got an added benefit of being paired with one of her former students this year, as Isaiah Etchison was placed in her classroom again. Bankhead said, “When I saw his name, I remembered his sweet little face when I taught him in third grade. It has been rewarding for me as I see him come full circle and now be a role model for my current students.”

Head Coach, Lance Ware, recognizes the many positive impacts of a program like “Football Buddies”. “I think our kids benefit from it as much as the younger kids. For our guys to see the impact that they have on younger people, and hopefully encourage them to do well. It is a sense of community, a sense of giving back, and that is what we’re all about,” stated Ware.

Thanks to Cleveland County Schools, in particularly Henry Gilmore, for sharing the story and to the Shelby Golden Lions for making a difference in their community.