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Athletes giving back: Sheridan High School sports promoting community-driven athletes

y action is something the Broncs try to do year-round.

Coach Don Julian implemented a culture of volunteering when he came to Sheridan in 2007. It started back when there were concerts held during rodeo week as players would help with set up, and they’ve since adopted things like set up and take down for the Hoop Jam, the Taste of Sheridan and the Kiwanas Pancake Breakfast during rodeo week.
“We have, and I have, a big belief that you’ve got to give back to your community,” Julian said. “We think that’s really important.”

Players actually receive points in their summer weight training programs for attending certain volunteer opportunities, with the hope that the small motivation eventually opens their eyes to the importance of the activity itself.

Senior All-State linebacker Ethan Hall’s leadership is felt by anyone who’s spent time around him near a football field. Spearheading one of the state’s top defenses, while his command requires strength, it also takes selflessness — the latter is a trait players like Hall take off the field.

“I like helping around and trying new things and meeting new people,” he said, pointing out that it was never an inconvenience. “I just like helping in the community as much as I can. It keeps me busy.”

Players like Hall develop their leadership skills on the gridiron and in the weight room, but also in the periods spent together outside a 10-week football season. They make phone calls reminding each other that they have to get up early and help at the pancake breakfast. Their reward? Lots of pancakes. As a team.

“It’s a different connection,” Hall said. “We have fun. We’re brothers and it’s part of the bond.”

Julian agreed that it does promote connectivity in the offseason — changing of the guard is something he preaches as key to a successful season — but the desired endgame goes even further than that.

“Our goal is to teach, ‘look at what this community does for us,’” Julian said, noting that the football team isn’t the only group of athletes to volunteer. “They come watch you play, they help support our programs financially.”

The weekly meal before all the Broncs away games on Thursday nights during the season isn’t quite a Thanksgiving feast, but it’s pretty close. Materials and time involved in feeding the army of football players gathered in a mess hall prior to their weekly battle is largely donated.

Julian knows leading a group of kids in a termed football town carries different responsibilities, the result corresponding with a community-driven program.

“I want our kids to really understand that, that’s part of being an adult,” Julian said. “Coming and supporting the youth of the community. And so I think we try to start that whole process off by showing our kids that hey, start giving back right now, so that when you become an adult, you cook for the football team and you cook for the basketball team. Just become involved.”

Ignoring the stigma of lazy, stubborn teenagers, whether it’s hauling hay for the nonprofit equine-based therapy program CHAPS, or something as small as volunteering to help move new school district faculty into their homes when they move to town, it’s not a task but instead part of a successful formula.

“What we do as Sheridan Broncs, the community service aspect is just something we expect of each other,” senior All-State lineman Tyler Julian said. “It really does add another level to that relationship we have with each other,” he added.

“I think if you asked anyone they’d be happy for all the community service that we’ve done. I think the community appreciates it and it’s just another way to give back to a community that’s given us so much.”

It’s no secret that football players get the most media coverage, they’re praised and even lifted up. But Julian does his best to make sure he farms a crop of humble student-athletes.

“I think a lot of times people think, the perception that we have, is that athletes are given an awful lot — and in some ways they are,” he admitted. “But we ask a lot of them — and a lot behind the scenes, people don’t know the amount of time that goes in.
“They get rewards that other students don’t, they’re in the paper every week, they’re on the radio,” Julian added. “They get all these benefits by being part of this, so we’ve got to make sure that we give back to our community. That’s just a sound philosophy for a program.”

Their actions have reciprocated this season after tragedy hit home last year when Broncs assistant coach Weston Johnson was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma.

Johnson’s battle has prolonged, and the joint effort between players and community has expanded beyond Sheridan in fundraising for his treatments through T-shirt sales and various other events. The outpouring of support has evolved into a thriving cancer awareness program, Never Flinch.

“I think it just shows how much this community cares about Bronc football,” senior running back and unanimous All-State selection Daniel Sessions said. “Just how much they care about what we do.”

About

Brad Estes

Sheridan Press sports editor

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