Senior center Danny Drummond has started in 34 football games in his college career. But it was Friday’s game that left him with a smile he couldn’t wipe off his face.
Drummond and the rest of the football team, with the Hillsdale cheer team and pep band, participated in Victory Day, an event that allowed nine children with special needs to be Chargers for the evening, getting the full “game day experience.”
It was a small event that made a big impact — on both the players and participants.
“It was cool to see how much the guys got into it,” Drummond said. “It was amazing to see so much joy on the kids’ faces when they scored a touchdown or caught a pass.”
As the kids cruised through the practice drills, team members cheered loudly, encouraging them to keep going. Keith Otterbein, head coach of Hillsdale’s football team, said he knew his players would embrace the opportunity to engage with the kids.
“I told them that this is the kind of event that’s only as good as you make it,” he said. “We are so fortunate to be here at Hillsdale. This was an opportunity for us to give back.”
Victory Day was the perfect fit for the football program, Otterbein said. Its core principles and its dedication to building the next generation of leaders align with Hillsdale’s mission and everything the team stands for.
The event continued into Saturday’s game, with Hillsdale and Reading High School football players mentoring 11 participants with special needs during halftime, showing them how to throw, catch, kick, and tackle.
“The little things we take for granted, like running out on the football field, were huge for them,” junior quarterback Chance Stewart said.
Otterbein said he hopes to continue sponsoring Victory Day in the years to come, because it’s a program that benefits both the players and the community.
“It works both ways — college players are given the opportunity to mix with the community, and the kids have men to look up to.”
Senior Zoe Harness, a captain of the cheer team, said Victory Day was a good way for the cheer team to begin expanding community outreach, something she said is one of this year’s goals. Giving back is a fundamental part of Hillsdale’s positive mission, she said. The cheer team wants to be a part of that and promote it in the community.
“Victory Day was such a great opportunity to be inclusive and kind. It’s a program that fosters a community that cares about every single person,” Harness said.
Under the lights, with the pep bland playing and the cheerleaders applauding them, Stewart said it was just like a game. Though it was just another Friday night for the players, for the kids it was an experience that will be apart of them forever, he said.
Remembering the joy he shared in the night before, Drummond walked onto the field on Saturday, ready to start his 34th game. Being apart of Victory Day helped him play better that day, he said.
“Usually when you give to others, you receive so much more blessing yourself,” Drummond said. “We walked onto the field on Friday knowing we would make those kids’ days, but it was pretty apparent they were going to give something to us as well. And I carried it with me on Saturday.”