Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to motivate yourself into doing your best. As an athlete, you often are motivated by your teammates and coaches.
In the case of the Bradley Central High School Bears, football team members find that motivation in a group of young men who always attend their games and cheer them on. On Tuesday, the BCHS team allowed those special men the chance to be more than just sideline and bleacher fans — they actually became a true part of the team.
Fun With Friends, an organization that works with young men and women and boys and girls who have special needs, visited with the team during one of its spring practices. Except for skill levels, it would have been hard to distinguish who was with that group, and who were actual players.
“Coach (Damon) Floyd and Coach (Todd) Stevison let us come to practice, and they don’t have to do this,” said Fun with Friends’ Bryan Gentry. “They are just wonderful.”
The six Fun With Friends players got to lead the team onto the field, and then led the cheer for the upcoming season and winning that first game of the year.
In a few cases, they even gave the football team some pointers on how to win.
Gentry said the team has always been so supportive of the young men and women who come and cheer them on.
“When we beat Cleveland High School, the coach stayed on the field well after the game to have his picture made with each of these guys,” he added. “We are so pleased that he is leading this program.”
Gentry remembered one of BCHS’s players — Lameric Tucker — “took his jersey off and gave it to Dustin Crumbley right there on the spot.”
“That shows how much these guys mean to our program, and vice versa,” he said.
Floyd, BCHS’s head coach, said it is a special feeling for him and the entire team to have the group cheering his gridiron squad on at games.
“These guys do a lot for us every Friday night. They are at all of our home games and, of course, Bryan Gentry used to be our booster club president for a long time, and he supports Bradley, so it was the least that we could do to give back a little bit and let them come out and put on the pads,” said Floyd. “This is about these guys, and we are happy to be part of it.”
Floyd said many of the BCHS football players end up with relationships with those in Fun with Friends, and some are family.
“They are a part of us, so it is not like we are two separate entities — we are all family,” the BCHS coach added.
At Tuesday’s practice, members of Fun With Friends ran only offensive plays. While it was a little difficult to catch the football, when many of them were given the opportunity to run the ball, they bolted through the defense for scores. Smiles abounded when they each would score and spike the football.
Floyd also held the football for them to attempt extra points/field goals. While some the kicks were rather short of the crossbar, one kick hit the bar and bounced away. The Fun with Friends members demonstrated how happy they were to participate.
The guys were not the only people at the practice from Fun with Friends. There were a few of the young women in the program who cheered the team from the sidelines.
While the guys were able to put on the pads, the cheerleaders wore special “Go Bears” T-shirts with their names on the back. Love Nancy’s director Catherine Patten and Gentry’s wife, Betsy, helped lead the cheers from the Fun with Friends group.
Current BCHS student Blair Terrell (who will graduate in a few days) and former BCHS student Megan Howell, who volunteer with the Fun with Friends organization, were pleased to see how they all intermingled on the football field.
“It is amazing working with them ... they just show you the most unconditional, real-type of love, and I think that is really awesome. No matter what you are going through, they are always there to pick you up during the day,” Terrell said. “They are just so special to me.”
“We are here to support them,” Howell said. “They have been excited about this all day, and we are so excited that they are excited. We enjoy it as much as they do, getting to see them so happy and they love to get the attention from all of these Bradley football players.”
The Bears’ first football game of the 2017 season will be at Farragut, in Knoxville, on Aug. 18. Their first home game will be on Sept. 1 against Ooltewah, and you can bet there will be a group of Fun with Friends cheering them on.
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