FELLSMERE — More than 40 Fellsmere 2nd-8th graders spent Monday passing, punting, and running along side about a dozen Florida Tech football players and coaches who dedicated their day to spending time with the students.
Monday’s football camp to benefit the students at Fellsmere’s Boys and Girls Club is part of a bigger relationship growing between the Panthers and the Fellsmere community. It all started, according to head coach Steve Englehart, with one football player landing an internship in the city and taking an interest in the community.
The Panthers plan on returning to Fellsmere on a weekly basis throughout the school year to head up a mentorship program that will match students up with the football players. Players will spend time playing games, helping with homework, and simply being positive role models in the students’ lives.
“When I was hired three years ago, this was part of my plan to do more community outreach,” Englehart said. The mentorship program, Englehart said, was born out of his desire to have a long-lasting and consistent impact instead of a once-and-done football camp.
The football camp, Englehart said, was a chance to give the young kids something positive to focus on, an opportunity to exercise, and the ability to connect with the football players who have plans to continue investing in students’ lives across Fellsmere.
“Our players get to feel what it’s like to give back to the community. It also gives them the opportunity to teach and coach, so that when they’re on the field and our coaches are coaching them, they know where [our coaches] are coming from,” Englehart said.
“They’re really big on community service,” said senior defensive back Steven Thomas. “If we don’t get our service hours in, there is punishment,” Thomas said.
According to Thomas, each athlete is required to dedicate at least six hours of community service each semester. But Thomas said many players log far more than the required six hours, and the service projects are hardly a chore.
“I’m very excited today,” Thomas said as his teammates set up an obstacle course Monday morning in preparation for the Boys and Girls Club students. “I’m excited to see new, young faces and see how excited they get to play a sport we already love to play.”
Thomas added, “We’re going to keep them moving and grooving.”
The mantra, “expand our territory” gets used a lot around the Florida Tech campus, according to Michael Daneshgar, football operations and quality control coach who participated in Monday’s event.
“It’s not just about expanding geographically, but it’s about getting into the community and having an impact on the kids,” Daneshgar said.
Monday was full of learning football fundamentals and racing through obstacle courses for the forty young Fellsmere students who got to interact with the service-minded team. But in the long run, it’s about forming relationships that will positively change the young students’ lives forever.
“You have to change the mindset of the kids. That’s where you start,” Daneshgar said.