COLLINSVILLE – Collinsville football coach Daniel Garrett was looking for a way the Panthers could give back to their community and bond at the same time. He only had to look just a couple of miles down the road from the school to find what he was looking for.
On Tuesday afternoon, Garrett and assistant coach Chris Conde loaded the Panthers on a school bus and took them to the Collinsville Health Care and Rehab Center. They split into two groups and covered the nursing home grounds, knocking on windows and saying hello to the residents, many of whom were prepared for their special visitors with “Go Panther” signs and waving red-and-white pom poms.
Judging by the reactions of the players and the residents, it was hard to tell which group had more fun.
“This (COVID-19) pandemic has been really hard on everybody, and I’m sure it’s been hard for them especially because they can’t have visitors inside,” sophomore quarterback Keaton DeBoard said. “We just want to help lift their spirits and let them know we’re here for them.”
For sophomore center Jordan Coker, it was an extra special team exercise for him.
“My family actually runs the nursing home,” said Coker, who’s dad Paul works there and uncle James is the facility’s administrator. “I’ve always grown up around the nursing home, and it’s just nice to see. They really appreciate everything, especially at a time like this when they see no one at all, even family members. They enjoy seeing young athletes and what they achieve.”
Sophomore linebacker Fernando Padilla agreed.
“I think it’s good for our community to show we care for them,” Padilla said.
Garrett said serving others is “one of those things that brings you together.”
“We talk in our culture about you can’t lead until you serve. I think the biggest example of that is if you read The Bible is Jesus Christ washing other people’s feet,” Garrett said. “We just looked at a way to do that for two reasons: No. 1 is to teach these guys how to lead and set a good example for them, and No. 2 is to give back to our own community.
“We have this nursing home in our town who is run by several of our players’ parents here. We’ve got a lot of kids in the school who work at the nursing home and people around here who have family members there. It was kind of a no-brainer where we could go to help in some way. We called Mr. (James) Coker and asked about going and knocking on windows, and he thought that was a good idea. It just kind of came together from that.”
Garrett, who went 6-4 in his first season at Collinsville last fall, related how special it was for him to take the Panthers to the nursing home. His own grandfather was in one before he passed a few years ago.
“I know he enjoyed every little interaction he had with somebody from the outside. He was an outdoors guy, but he couldn’t go outdoors as much,” Garrett said. “I felt like this would be something that would hopefully lift their spirits and let them know we’re thinking about them, and we’re going to play with them in mind as we move forward.
“It’s very unfortunate they’ve had no outside interaction. They’ve had to shut their doors. That facility has been hit pretty hard by COVID-19. They’ve had several patients who have been infected. Collinsville is a very tight-knit community, and football is very important to Collinsville, so we wanted to take football to them in what little way possible we could, just showing up in our Collinsville football attire, showing them we’re working and playing for and thinking of them.”
Garrett is hoping days like Tuesday will become a bigger part of the Panthers’ football culture.
“That’s kind of the thought process. Once you do it, you want to do it more, and an unintended consequence of that is bringing us closer together as a team and a family.”
It sounds like Garrett’s exercise in giving back is already having an impact with his players.
“The best way we can grow closer is doing stuff together, activities like this,” DeBoard said. “We’re trying to learn it’s not always about football. It’s more about life and serving other people.”
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