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Wrestlers build a community bridge

About 70 wrestlers from 13 Division II schools took time Wednesday afternoon to interact with kids at two Birmingham-area Boys and Girls Clubs.

It was a good day not only for the participants and student-athletes, but also for veteran staff members whose lives have been shaped by Boys and Girls Clubs.

At the Hueytown unit on the southwest side of the city, 30 wrestlers spent a couple of hours, not only showing kids about the sport but playing games and spending time in the art room with them.

Three Boys and Girls Club staff members said it was exactly the sort of experience the children need – and each of them should know. Jennifer Nichols, Darryl Rogers and Josh Pierce all started as Boys and Girls Clubs members, took advantage of a counselor-in-training program and now work at the Hueytown club.

“This teaches the kids a lot of things,” said Nichols, who joined the Boys and Girls Club when she was 7 and is now a sophomore electrical engineering major at nearby UAB. “A lot of them are just glued to games all day long.”

So, the activity itself was good. But Rogers and Pierce said the visit paid social and educational dividends, as well.

Rogers, now vice president of operations for the Hueytown unit, also joined Boys and Girls Clubs at 7. 

His high school principal was a camp counselor and pushed Rogers to become the first member of his family to go to college. 

Out of college, Rogers went to work for Boys and Girls Clubs, which he’s now been doing for more than three decades.

Wednesday’s visit from the student-athletes was huge, Rogers said.

“It’s great to see somebody they can relate to in their age that can talk to them about how they got into college and be a positive mentor for these kids,” he said. “We’re all looking for that kind of experience for our youth who are here because they see the negatives every day. They need to see the positive also, and this is very positive.”

Pierce, a counselor, joined Boys and Girls Clubs at age 7, was hired at 14 and has been with the organization since. 

He knows that when student-athletes spoke, the 200 kids who were present Wednesday were listening.

“They’re speaking with a student-athlete, which pretty much all of our kids would want to be,” he said. “They’re not all going to have the talent to be that, but they’re hearing what it takes to balance school, balance athletics and balance personal life.”

As the session unfolded, coaches and staff from participating schools watched their student-athletes effortlessly interact with the kids.

“I think they enjoy the interaction,” said Roy Stutz, assistant athletic trainer at Nebraska Kearney. “I think athletes are kind of natural to that, being in uncomfortable environments and knowing how to adapt to it. But when it revolves around things that they can teach and things that they want to share, I think it’s very natural to them.”

Ned Shannon, head athletic trainer at UIndy, concurred. 

“There was nervous anticipation out in the hallway. I’m not going to joke,” he said. “It looked to be about the third group through -- our guys started to hit a little bit of a pace, and they became a lot more comfortable now than they were at the start.”

Nervous or not, it all came together in a win-win sort of way.

“If one or two children is impacted by this,” said Truman coach David Schutter, “then it’s a great story.”