BYU athletes give back in annual Sports Hero Day

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Butch Pau’u interacts with the kids during Sports Hero Day. BYU hosted close to 1,000 local sixth-graders during the annual Sports Hero Day. (Natalie Stoker)

Nearly 1,000 local sixth-graders had the chance to interact with their favorite Cougars as BYU hosted its annual Sports Hero Day on Jan. 21.

Sports Hero Day is one of 70 programs the Center for Service and Learning at BYU hosts. The day is designed to offer a positive experience for kids by spending time with BYU athletes.

“Children this age are trying to identify with role models and this program seeks to provide that for them,” Y Serve Director Chris Crippen said.

Brockbank Elementary school has attended Sports Hero Day for more than five years.

“It’s the greatest field trip ever,” sixth-grade teacher Kristel Peterson said.”For the kids and for us.”

BYU athletes and volunteers led the students in six athletic stations. Each station included drills and routines that incorporated principles of teamwork, diligence and goal setting.

It was Aspen Elementary volunteer Lynn Painter’s first time at Sports Hero Day and the experience made a great impression.

“I so admire these volunteers,” Painter said. “I’m very, very pleased with this.”

The students identified with their sports heroes, while the BYU athletes remembered what it was like to be in their place. BYU punter Jonny Linehan reflected on his childhood experiences and his love for giving back.

“This is something I’m really passionate about,” Linehan said. “I like the small kids. I’m a big fan of the underdogs because growing up I was small and a lot of people said I couldn’t do things and I’ve proved them wrong.”

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum also reminisced.

“I would come to BYU games and I always looked up to BYU athletes,” Mangum said. “They were role models and heroes to me. It’s cool to be able to come full (circle).”

Students filled the Smith Fieldhouse for a pep rally featuring the BYU cheer squad, Cosmo and his stunt team and four BYU athlete speakers — cheerleader Jessica Young, soccer player Bizzy Phillips, Linehan and Mangum.

Young demonstrated teamwork with two student volunteers. The students were asked to try to complete an impossible solitary task and then to work together to accomplish the same task as a team.

“Teamwork is in every aspect of our lives,” Young said. “You all have to contribute your part in order to get the final result.”

Phillips followed, sharing stories from her soccer career to illustrate how to set and achieve goals despite inevitable failures.

“You guys are more capable than you think. You are more powerful than you think,” Phillips said. “Never be afraid to fail. You’re gonna fail and it’s what you do after that. Pick yourself up.”

Linehan used his experiences in rugby and football to demonstrate the importance of hard work and determination.

“It doesn’t matter what things you have going for you or what things you have going against you,” Linehan said. “You can do anything you want. Make big goals that are gonna stretch you. Go out and be better than some of your heroes and one day you will be a hero for somebody else.”

Mangum finished the speeches and emphasized a positive attitude.

“The best things in life don’t come easy,” Mangum said. “Be ready to accept the challenge and embrace it. Keep smiling. There’s no reason not to.”

The students were all smiles when Cosmo threw a signed volleyball, soccer ball and T-shirts into the audience to finish off the day.

“I want to say thank you to the volunteer group leaders,” Crippen said. “I also want to recognize the program directors and of course our athletes.”

The Center for Service and Learning supports the fourth Aim of BYU Education, “lifelong learning and service” by coordinating service opportunities like Sports Hero Day.

Community Service Coordinator Becky Smoot said Sports Hero Day may mean as much to the volunteers as it does to the kids.

“It’s really great that we can help students get meaningful service opportunities and just see the difference they can make in the lives of those they serve,” Smoot said.

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