May 31, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State football Buckeyes spent their final day of the university's Maymester academic period paying forward and helping their younger peers at the Graham Expeditionary Middle School (GEMS) "Play it Forward" by building, renovating and constructing a new playground on the grounds of the oldest middle school in the nation.
"Today we weren't football players," head coach Urban Meyer said Thursday to approximately 150 K-through-second graders and sixth-through-eighth graders patiently sitting in their new and improved school playground. "We are students at The Ohio State University and we want to give back to this great community."
Three teams of Buckeyes - approximately 85 players in all - worked in shifts throughout the day to clean up the grounds, landscape, paint parking spaces, construct a garden, and repaint buildings and basketball backboards as part of a "Play it Forward" partnership among the Ohio State Office of Student Life, the football program, Lowe's and local schools in Columbus.
This wasn't an easy community service project. It was dirty, hot, sweaty work, but it was something the Buckeyes were eager to handle and honored to be a part.
"I learned it from Earle Bruce: for some reason football players start thinking they're something more than a student-athlete, and they're not," Meyer said. "It's our job to make sure they remember that. Our guys, they get it. There's no pushback whatsoever to come here and spend all day with the students."
Other teams of players were hard at work out back.
- Offensive linemen Marcus Hall, Antonio Underwood and Kyle Dodson were doing the dirty work: shoveling up old mulch, leaves and grime...and doing it with a smile on their faces.
- Jeff Heuerman, Blake Thomas and Evan Spencer taped and repainted basketball hoops and backboards.
- C.J. Barnett, Jacoby Boren, Craig Fada and Kevin Niehoff led a team of a dozen Buckeyes who built a new garden...using tools like pry bars, steel rakes, shovels and sledge hammers - yes, sledge hammers! - to move rocks, level and align railroad ties and spread dozens of bags of mulch, dirt and soil.
- Another two handfuls of players, including Tyvis Powell, Cardale Jones, Russell Doup, George Makridis and Levi Ratliff, worked with paint rollers and brushes while painting utility buildings, retaining walls, playground poles and yellow parking lines, something that carried more significance than what it appeared.
"This playground was designed to accommodate and help football Saturday parking in this community," GEMS executive dean Greg Brown said. "This community is thankful."
Being appreciative gets right back to the root of why the Buckeyes were at this red brick school that opened its doors in 1909 as the first junior high school in the nation and remains a vibrant learning ground, just off Ohio State's campus, for young people who someday may be Ohio State Buckeyes themselves.
"Play it Forward" was inspired by Woody Hayes' famous "pay forward" legacy and Meyer's desire to have his football program more involved in the Columbus community. Meyer, his assistants and others donated $25,000 toward the project with Lowe's providing in-kind contributions and Easy Living Deli and Rooster's donating breakfast and lunch for the day.
"I've seen all the different cultures across this country and there's a culture in the Midwest and a culture certainly in this area," Meyer explained. "And that culture is not just from Woody Hayes but he was a big part of it, with Bo Schembechler and all that, there was a culture of a pay forward mentality. It's community involvement, a premium placed on academics, community service, toughness, and doing things the right way. This is our way of adding on to that."
A few hours after the third shift of Buckeyes wrapped things up by enjoying lunch with some students, a line of 19 young children, all wearing scarlet tee-shirts with "Think like a kid...Play it Forward" on the front of them, were in line to play on their new half-moon climbing structure. They were unaware of the little "play it forward" sign in the ground next to the structure, but the words on the sign may come into play for them sometime down the road.
"You can climb as high and as far as you'd like. Be sure to help someone along the way. And remember - you're a star. Always shine brightly, reach for the moon - and NEVER give up!"