Smiles ran across the children at all five of the schools where members of the Northwestern State football team visited throughout Monday.
Seeing those reactions elicited the same response from the Demons who took part in the 16th annual Chris Waddell Day activities. The community service day is named for the Northwestern State redshirt freshman offensive lineman who passed away from a heart condition March 1, 2004, the day before he was to take part in his first spring practice at Northwestern State.
Defensive end Rashuad Powell has been part of the Northwestern State program for four years, making him a veteran of Chris Waddell Day, but his connection to the event goes deeper than most.
“It’s a great experience to talk to the kids and tell them about Chris Waddell,” Powell said. “It’s crazy, because I have the same thing he did, so this means a lot to me. I can tell my story about how I persevered through all the surgeries, all the setbacks, all the tests to get to where I am. It started building my character. I was in a hospital bed and now I’m playing football for Northwestern State.”
Powell and his teammates spent the day bouncing from school to school, spending time at L.P. Vaughn Elementary, St. Mary’s Elementary, M.R. Weaver Elementary, NSU E-Lab and NSU Middle Lab throughout the day.
Mixing physical activities – dodgeball was a mainstay at the morning stops – with life lessons, the Demon players and coaches involved gained as much from the interaction as the students.
“They absolutely love it,” assistant head coach De’Von Lockett said. “The basketball competition, the dodgeball competition, they enjoy the entire day. For us as a staff, it’s a chance to get out in the community and be with our kids at the forefront. Our guys do a lot of community service throughout the year, but today is special. We are going to continue to represent Chris and keep his legacy going.”
While Powell and several other players who made stops around Natchitoches on Monday have been through the Waddell Day routine before, the impact was not lost on the newcomers to the event.
“It was awesome,” said wide receiver Marquise Bridges, who came to Northwestern State from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College at mid-year. “Being able to see these little kids who watch us and look up to us is a blessing. I don’t know the story that much, but I know enough to know the importance of it. (Waddell) was a guy who worked hard and cherished everything he did. We want to honor his name and go out and make an impact.”
Bridges was part of a group of NSU players who spoke to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at the E-Lab on the NSU campus.
Assistant coach J Pond led the discussion session, telling the students, “There’s never a bad time to be selfless,” before turning the program over to the players.
The players at all five stops, to a man, talked about how much they gained from the experiences on Chris Waddell Day.
“It’s really special to give back and teach lessons and help these kids,” running back Trevor Morgan said. “I remember when I was in their shoes. If I was a kid, I would feel real excited. We have a chance to be role models for the community. It’s real exciting.”
Said quarterback Kaleb Fletcher: “It’s amazing to get out here and give back to the community. We do this for the kids, but at the end of the day, we gain a lot more from being around these kids, these young, free souls. They’re enjoying their time without a worry or a care in the world. It was refreshing spending the day with them.”
Added tight end David Fitzwater: “It means a lot being a role model. These kids look up to us. This is their dream to be able to play at this level. It makes you appreciate what you’re able to do, because you want to give back. You were one of those kids one day.”
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services