Fighting Irish Football Team Helps Children Tackle the Arts
Over 100 children turn out for inaugural event.

Oct. 25, 2002

By Lisa Mushett

After a tumultuous offseason, the Notre Dame football team decided it wanted to do something as a group to help the community, as well as build team chemistry for the 2002 season. The Irish accomplished both in late July by joining forces with the St. Joseph Public Library in downtown South Bend and playing host to the first annual Tackle The Arts project.

The program, which was free and open to the public, divided the library into four different artistic areas: poetry and creative writing, reading, art and drawing and music. The Irish players divided up among their areas of expertise and helped children and their parents create projects at each station. Everything from poems to paper dolls of the football players were created by the more than 100 children who attended the inaugural event.

Senior linebacker Courtney Watson was the one who approached Eric Guerra, Coordinator of Student Development, expressing an interest in putting together such an event.

“I wanted to put something together which involved our entire football team, but was not related to football,” Watson says.

“I thought we could incorporate other things that interest kids like reading, writing and music, and get our team involved with that. We have a lot of guys on the team who are talented in all these areas. We also wanted it to be at a place that was accessible to a lot of kids. What better place than the library?”

In what is normally a quiet place, the library turned into a building full of music, voices, and most importantly, laughter from both the players and children who participated in the program. Linda Conyers, who is the Director of Programming at the library, talked about the success of the event.

“We were fortunate the team came to us and wanted to do an event,” Conyers says.

“They wanted to do something with a large group of people and with all of the different talents and interests of everyone on the team, the event came together beautifully. I think by the end we broke every traditional rule of the library, including playing a game of baseball, but it was fantastically noisy and everyone had a wonderful time.”

Different players were in charge of the various stations that showcased their areas of interest. Gerome Sapp, Cedric Hilliard, Courtney Watson and Ryan Gillis led the reading showcase. Darrell Campbell and Brandon Hoyte taught children how to write poems. John Crowther, Dan Stevenson and Shane Walton were part of the art and drawing station, while Derek Curry bellowed out songs in the music area. There were also a number of other players who helped the children learn more about computers and played different games with them in the Children’s Room.

“I read a little poetry and some nursery rhymes,” Watson said.

“I can’t draw at all. I was the one behind the scenes and I let the talented guys like Gerome Sapp, Brandon Hoyte and Darrell Campbell actually be the front guys.”

Hoyte, who is an accomplished writer and has had his poetry featured in number publications, enjoyed seeing the kids embrace the poetry station.

“I remember one little boy made his own poem and that started a trend where a bunch of kids were writing five- and six-line poems,” Hoyte said.

“We had kids write about football and their families among other topics. There was a little girl who wrote a poem about how important her mom was to her. It was so good to see the kids embrace poetry because, with kids, you always get the raw emotion.”

Although trying their best to be great mentors at the different stations, the players learned quickly, the children could be a tough crowd.

“The kids were really responsive to what we were doing,” Sapp says.

“They would correct us if we missed lines in the book or make us go back a page if we missed a picture.”

The day also served as an opportunity for many children and parents to meet and have lengthy conversations with their favorite Irish players. There was an autograph table and many photo opportunities for all the people in attendance.

“When you are in the situation we are in as student-athletes, especially at Notre Dame, you owe it to the community to give back as much as you can,” Hoyte says.

“It was great to have all of those little kids there, helping them read and learn more about the arts. It is also great for us because we are able to meet different people in the community.”

“Every time you can mix athletics with reading and writing, that heightens the experience,” says Sapp.

“Anytime you can have kids come out and see you, while educating them, that means more than anything. They were there to see us, but they really got into all of the different areas we had set up around the library.””

Although the children and parents had a great time, the players had an even better time.

“I enjoyed reading with Courtney (Watson) and Cedric (Hilliard),” Sapp says.

“It was funny to see these big guys with braids in their hair reading Dr. Seuss. It was also nice to give a few autographs and mingle with the true fans.”

After the success of the inaugural event, Conyers is hoping to make it an annual meeting, as well as expand it to other athletic programs at Notre Dame.

“We certainly hope it continues in the years to come. It was a great kick off to the school year for the children and the football team. We hope we can expand the program to include the basketball teams and others at Notre Dame.”

The players were thrilled with the reaction to the event as well.

“I thought the turnout was great for the amount of time we advertised it and being the first year of the event,” Watson said.

“It is something I hope the team can do for a long time and build on the success of the first year.”

Many in the community hope so as well as this was one tackle that was a huge hit.