For the last 35 years, the Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) football team has been changing lives of young students at Lister Elementary in Tacoma, Wash. The 18 to 21-year-old men that play football at PLU aren’t teaching these kids how to throw and catch a ball, nor are they teaching them how to block or make a tackle, these men are simply teaching these kids that they can accomplish anything that they set their mind to.
For three days in a row, Tuesday through Thursday, from eight o’clock in the morning to three in the afternoon, the Lutes football team takes 45-minute shifts in pre-selected classrooms, teaching the children the concept of the “Five C’s”. They are as follows: the choice game, the challenge game, the comparison game, the confidence game and the caring game. Each game holds its own meaning, lesson and concept, which in turn gives supportive tools for the kids to use now and later in their lives, in order to become successful.
Every year, Lister Elementary sets a theme for its students, in the hope that it will give them an extra boost to succeed in the classroom. Teachers, parents and the surrounding community join forces and encourage the kids to stick with the theme and continue to work hard both inside, and outside the classroom. This year’s theme is “climb to college”. Senior starting cornerback for the Lutes, Shawn Bowen, thinks that this theme is exceptional.
“I grew up in the greater Tacoma area, and I have seen some pretty rough things”, Bowen said. “I know how rough it can be for these kids and really want to help them. This theme is absolutely great!”
All throughout the school grounds, the children are constantly reminded with colorful posters pinned on classroom walls that read, “yes you can”, “climb to college” and “work hard to achieve your goals”. For many students around the country these simple encouraging words have no true in-depth meaning, but for the children at Lister, these words are what they hold on to in order to succeed.
Many of these children come from low-income houses, in addition to a lack of support from their guardians at home. Some of the kids come from one-parent households, where the majority of them are without a dominant male figure in their lives. Fortunately enough, this is where the Lutes step in and help.
Each week the Lutes teach the children one of the “Five C’s”, and this week they will share the concept of the “choice game”. This game reminds the children that they can “choose” to make it a great day, that you can “choose” your attitude and that you can “choose” to make the right choices.
In groups of four to seven players, they introduce themselves to the children, telling the children who they are, where they grew up and what their football jersey number is. Depending on the age of the students, the activities will vary. Most of the children who are in second grade and under get the opportunity to hear the players read them a book for part of the learning session, while the older children get more complicated tasks of learning the deeper meaning of what each game involves. For the Lutes, it’s amazing to see the kids develop and understand the games.
“I love the spending time with these kids,” senior Derek Kaufman said, who is the starting free safety for the Lutes on defense. “It’s great to see their faces light up when we walk into the classroom, it really warms your heart.”
Kaufman, who has attended these Lister sessions for the last three years, has been able to see the kids grow and begin to grasp the concept of each game. He says it’s amazing to see the development by each individual student, but admits it can be difficult at times.
“When I first started coming to Lister as a freshman, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but as I attended more and more sessions at the school I began to really enjoy seeing the kids,” said Kaufman. “I remember having a group of kids in the classroom that really didn’t seem to interested in the games. I took special attention to them throughout the year and eventually saw them get the hang of what we were trying to teach them. Their success and growth was amazing to watch.”
The Lutes will continue this process for five weeks and at the end will invite the children in each class to attend their second-to-last home game against Whitworth University on Nov. 8. Here the kids will join the players on the field and participate in the Lutes’ famous “Go-drills”.