Senior football player Jordon Har­lamert reads with Gier Ele­mentary fourth grader Matthew Dunning.
(Photo: Jill Shreffler | Courtesy)

When junior offensive lineman Tyler Scholl visits fourth-graders at Gier Ele­mentary every week, they ask him when he’ll be back. And they’re dis­ap­pointed when he reminds them they have to wait another week — even though he’s been doing this for two years.

Scholl is one of 14 Hillsdale College football players who read to Gier Ele­mentary stu­dents and help them with math and reading skills for about an hour every week, according to Jill Shreffler, a 4th-grade teacher at the school. Shreffler helped start the vol­unteer program about 12 years ago at Mauck Ele­mentary with her husband, assistant football coach Nate Shreffler. They moved the program to Gier when Mauck closed in 2010, Jill Shreffler said.

No one requires the football players to go, but Nate Shreffler said he’s seen an eagerness to help; about a dozen players sign up every semester.

“Our guys gen­uinely have a desire to give back,” Nate Shreffler said. “I don’t push it on them or any­thing, and we always have a lot of guys that jump on it.”

The vol­unteer work is rewarding, Scholl said, noting that many of the 4th-graders know him well since he helped the 3rd-grade class last year. Most days, he’ll listen to 4th-graders read to 1st-graders, then sit with stu­dents as they read and write letters to pen pals, answering their ques­tions about spelling and how to decipher cursive. Last week, he helped out with a science exper­iment, too.

“The high­light of the time would be just how excited the kids get when you show up,” he said. He arrives early, just as the kids’ recess is ending, so he can say “hi.”

The boys ask him all about football and the girls chatter to him about things he doesn’t under­stand, he said, but he nods and engages when he can. He enjoys the funny moments: Once, a kid came up to him in the hall and said, “You’re really big. Are you a 5th-grader?”

“They think you know every­thing,” he said. Ever since the stu­dents learned he’s in a Spanish class, he said, they ask him to translate every­thing into Spanish.

“It’s cool how much they appre­ciate you taking an hour out of your week,” Scholl said.

“The Chargers are excellent role models for our stu­dents,” Jill Shreffler said in an email. “We’ve been for­tunate to have Chargers football players vol­unteer for many years and all of the feedback I’ve received from teachers, stu­dents, parents and players has been extremely pos­itive. It is also a great con­nection between the college and the com­munity.” 

For head football coach Keith Otterbein, this vol­unteer work is a big part of the team’s char­acter.

“Every oppor­tunity that we have to pay back for those less for­tunate than us, we try to take advantage of,” he said.

“When I was in ele­mentary school, if a college football player came in, that would just be the coolest thing ever,” he added. “Those kids just look in awe at our players. It’s a great reminder to our players … not to let those kids down.”’

Otterbein said the team does other vol­unteer work, such as a youth camp in the spring, a Make-A-Wish event this week, and a Victory Day program to help people with special needs at the Michigan Tech game last month. They’ve also talked about doing a com­munity leaf clean-up this fall, he said.

Vol­unteer work is important for Charger ath­letes across all teams —  and is encouraged by the G‑MAC, said head women’s tennis Coach Nicole Wal­bright, who is the faculty adviser for the Student-Athlete Advisory Com­mittee. The G‑MAC doesn’t require vol­unteer work, but it does ask teams to log vol­unteer hours, some­thing the pre­vious con­ference didn’t do, Wal­bright said.

“Just being a Hillsdale College student, that’s what we try to promote,” Wal­bright said, pointing out that because so much of ath­letes’ support comes from the com­munity, it’s espe­cially important for them to give back.

Most Charger teams delve into some kind of vol­unteer work. For example, the men’s and women’s tennis teams will host a com­munity tennis event on Sat­urday, allowing anyone to come play with the team for a couple hours, Wal­bright said. Members of the softball team helped out with a softball camp for younger kids a few weeks ago, said junior out­fielder Katie Kish. And the women’s bas­ketball team’s vol­unteer activ­ities this semester include helping out at Sal­vation Army, pro­viding a meal for a family at Thanks­giving, and donating toys and clothes for children at Christmas, head coach Matt Fritsche said.

The track team tackles a vol­unteer project every year, senior Rachael Tolsma said: last year, they cleaned a local cemetery, and this year, they’ll be setting up a table in the Grewcock Student Union to collect cards for adopted and foster children, then send the notes with blankets.

For the past three years, the entire men’s bas­ketball team has helped out at the Hillsdale invi­ta­tional cross-country meet —  even though it’s on the first day of classes for the college, Mary­Mar­garet Peter said, head coach of the cross-country team at Hillsdale High and Middle schools. The bas­ketball players help set up the meet, direct traffic, collect tags at the finish line, and clean up.

“It’s cool to see them out in the com­munity,” Peter said. “It’s been a really great example of giving back. It espe­cially reg­isters with high schoolers, and they are more willing to help with middle schoolers in return.”

Otterbein com­mented on the eagerness of Hillsdale stu­dents to throw their efforts into helping the com­munity.

“They’re good kids. The char­acter, integrity, and work ethic of our kids across the board is mind-bog­gling,” he said. “When those oppor­tu­nities come up, they take them.”

Although the G‑MAC requirement for tracking vol­unteer hours is new, Otterbein said it won’t change any­thing for Charger ath­letes, who already pri­or­itize vol­un­teering.

When it comes to helping the com­munity, “it’s business as usual,” he said.