BYU basketball player Jonathan Tavernari was one of the BYU student-athletes to participate in Sports Hero Day. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- In the eyes of many children BYU student-athletes are looked up to as heroes.
During Sports Hero Day on Thursday, Jan. 8, Cougar athletes witnessed the admiration in the eyes of 1,000 sixth graders who visited BYU to meet their sports heroes. Athletes from every BYU sport, with the exception those currently on the road, played host to their young visitors, speaking in workshops and welcoming the children off the school buses.
“The program was put on by the Center for Service and Learning,” Program Director Jacob Blickenstaff said. “It’s great of the athletes to share their experiences with the sixth graders.”
The children took tours of many of the BYU facilities including a quick stop by the football offices. They attended workshops hosted by BYU athletes from 10 a.m. to noon, where athletes shared principles on time management, goal setting and honesty.
“It is nice to be role models and show children what can happen if they work hard,” BYU softball player Monica Gonzales said. “A lot of kids look up to us and want to be like us, they will say ‘I want to play softball just like you.’”
After the athletes shared their experiences about what principles it takes to succeed both on and off the field, the fun continued for sixth graders and athletes alike. The group crammed into the Smith Field House for a 45-minute Power Rally.
BYU Cheerleaders greeted the group with “B-Y-U” chants before Cosmo, BYU’s mascot, appeared. Cosmo rallied the crowd by giving the young students high fives before a highlight video was shared with the sixth graders.
The young faces looked on in awe at the hard work and accomplishments of BYU student-athletes shown in the video. As the highlights came to a close, Cougar Basketball player Jonathan Tavernari stood behind the podium ready to address the sixth graders.
The 6-foot-6 Brazil native towered over the children seated on the floor, but his candid demeanor showed the children that they were in fact, his equals.
“It’s a honor for us to spend time with you and to thank you,” Tavernari said. “We appreciate the love and support you give us.”
He continued on by reflecting on the position of a role model.
“It’s a chance for us to be examples and to see how what we do affects you,” Tavernari concluded.
BYU football running back Harvey Unga also took the opportunity to share a story about his sports heroes during the Power Rally.
“My sports heroes are my mom and my dad,” Unga explained. “My mom was always there for me in school and she pushed me when I struggled. My dad was there for me in sports.”
Unga explained to the sixth graders that his parents helped him to succeed and that there is value in looking for support from parents. He concluded with an inspiration note on working hard to achieve anything.
“Always aim high,” Unga said. “Nothing good comes easy.”
Tom Holmoe, BYU Athletics Director, was the final speaker at the Power Rally.
“I hope today that you have heroes and they inspire you to become what you want to be,” Holmoe said.
He discussed the concept of putting together a personal hall of fame with people who inspire the children on an intimate level, people who they can look to as heroes.
“Remember who is in your hall of fame when you need inspiration,” Holmoe stated.
But before the rally was over, Holmoe challenged the children to become heroes and to avoid the pitfalls that can take them away from that path.
“You can be a hero,” He said. “You might not be an Olympian or a collegiate athlete – But you can be a hero. You’ve got to stay on track because there are a lot of distractions that will prohibit you from becoming a hero to someone else.”
As the athletes gathered in a high-five line while the children exited and headed back to school, the sixth graders’ eyes beamed with admiration when they said their final good byes to their sports heroes.