Some of Tulane's best future sports fans are out our back door, and student athletes are doing their part to usher them in
The Devlin Student Athletes for Education Center brought hundreds of New Orleans schoolchildren to Tulane's uptown campus over the past year. Funded by the generosity of donors Kate and Bob Devlin, the center pairs students from the region with Green Wave athletes who show them that graduating from college is a goal they can achieve.
Through programs such as Wave Days, Shadow-A-Student-Athlete Day and the NFL-sponsored summer Youth Impact Program, the up-close excitement of collegiate athletics entices schoolchildren to focus on a path to college, says Lindsey Stineman, director of student-athlete academic services at Tulane.
"There's always one-on-one interaction, real interaction," Stineman says. "We don't make it real formal – they're sitting next to each other in the Superdome watching a football game … And the kids can look at the Tulane students and say, 'I can do that,' because of this relationship."
Tulane athletes motivate youngsters through the S-AFE Center's
Shadow-a-Student-Athlete outreach program. (Photo by Tulane University)
At the beginning of the Youth Impact Program, for example, Tulane football players seem like celebrities to the middle-schoolers they mentor during the four-week summer camp, says senior cornerback Phillip Davis. After all, they do play in the Superdome every weekend.
"They're just star struck," Davis says. "They want to know, 'Who's the best you've played against? How strong are you? How many pushups can you do?'"
Over time, the Green Wave mentors leverage the boys' respect into paying attention to the reading, math and life-skills classes that form part of the program, Davis says, and the boys' natural rowdiness and pent-up energy becomes focused on training and lesson plans.
An aspiring high-school coach, Davis says the Impact program was his first opportunity to test himself in that role, and ultimately became one of the best experiences of his life. When one challenging preteen wanted nothing to do with either the tutoring or the football, Davis singled out the student during practice for an afternoon of one-on-one training. Taking a few tackles gave the child self-confidence, and he quickly became the most eager volunteer in the program.
"They definitely make strides in their football skills, and they mature as young men," Davis says. "You just have to give each one special attention."
Those sorts of experiences can profoundly change a student's view of college, says Coach Jacque Richardson of Samuel J. Green Charter School, one of the local middle schools that has partnered with the S-AFE Center for outreach programs.
"They get to see what the day of a student-athlete looks like," Richardson says. "Once they understand they can schedule their own classes, move their classes around the way that they want, it kind of makes it a little more fun than regular school. … It helps the kids see it's not just the athletic part, it's the academic part, too."
Devonta Duncan, a 13-year-old Green charter student who has participated in both the Youth Impact Program and Wave Days, says college and a career as an entrepreneur are already on his mind. Getting to know the college athletes encouraged him to focus on his dreams.
"They gave us a different view of how college is," Duncan says. "At first, I thought it was all about work, work, work, but they actually have some fun stuff you can do. But it's mostly about responsibility, too."
Both the Devlin Center and the Grow Up Green program, which allows Green Wave supporters to buy tickets for local students, strengthen the entire Tulane athletics community, says Jeff Bush, senior associate vice president for constituency programs. These initiatives help out-of-state alumni remain actively involved in game-day athletics, and give area schoolchildren the opportunity to experience Tulane first-hand.
Growing up in Bogalusa, Bush's first real exposure to college sports was his Little League team's invitation to a Tulane game. From that weekend, following Tulane became as important as following the Saints.
"Kids want to belong," Bush said. "They want to feel like they are part of something bigger, and Tulane is a great thing to be a part of."
R.M. Morris is a writer in the Office of Development.
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