Before high school football players begin throwing and catching spirals this weekend in Dalton, they’re going to experience and share the benefits of giving back to the area today.
The Southeastern 7-on-7 Champ-ionship’s Community Day will include participation by several players and coaches from the 32 teams participating in The Daily Citizen’s two-day passing tournament, which is set for Saturday and Sunday on Dalton Parks and Recreation Department Fields.
A handful of teams will participate in two separate service projects in Dalton this morning. Harding Academy from Searcy, Ark., will serve food at Providence Ministries. Christian Heritage, Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield will install flooring in the kitchen and dining room at City of Refuge.
In addition, the public is invited to come out to James Brown Park, located behind the Dalton Recreation Center at 904 Civic Dr., from noon to 4 p.m. The five teams involved in this morning’s projects will be there to meet and greet fans and interact with local kids and families.
Activities will include live music and inflatables, as well as Epic Entertainment’s mobile video game center, which has five 55-inch big screens that allow up to 20 people to play at the same time. The afternoon’s activities are sponsored by the Georgia National Guard.
Last year’s inaugural Southeastern did not include a community day kicking off the event, but the squad coming from three borders away was the first domino for the new addition.
It started with a conversation between Harding coach Roddy Mote and tournament director Christian Byrd.
“(Mote) said, ‘You know, I can’t go that far without having good intentions and show that for our kids,’” said Gary Jones, advertising director for The Daily Citizen. “So he came up with a mission project, and when we talked to the local schools they liked the idea.”
Mote said he and his Wildcats did something similar two years ago.
“We went to Mobile, Ala., and did a seven-on-seven tournament at the University of South Alabama,” Mote said. “We did some inner-city work and visited people in a project area, passed out flyers in another area and did a pee wee football camp in the late hours and early evenings.
“We probably have 80 kids, and it was right in the middle of the projects. The grass wasn’t mowed. It was up to about shin height. We did that for about two or two and a half hours. ... It was a great experience for us.”
And for the Wildcats, helping out the less fortunate is a common practice.
“We all get into it,” said Hunter Gentry, a senior wide receiver and cornerback. “I know some of us from our churches will do work camps, too. We all try to help out around the community.”
Byrd matched Harding up with Providence Ministries, a Christian-based non-profit rescue mission in Dalton which provides food, shelter and addiction recovery for those in need.
“I wanted to link them up with a good experience,” Byrd said.
Mote did his research into the organization and said he was impressed.
“When he mentioned the word Providence Ministries, I went online to look at it and that is an incredible ministry,” he said. “They do incredible work.”
But the bigger thing is the idea inspired other teams.
“When I was told by Christian that other teams were interested in doing this, being able to lock arms with those other athletes, our kids are really excited about it,” Mote said.
Among the local teams, Byrd said each squad will bring 10-15 players to help in the project at City of Refuge, which has an older structure in need of flooring renovations. The hardwood flooring was donated by Dalton’s IVC US.
“It will certainly address a need there,” Byrd said. “It’s something they’ve wanted to do but haven’t have the funds to do.”
The non-profit organization offers a number of programs for people and families struggling and living in difficult environments, or “in the margins,” according to its website.
“I asked my kids and had about 12-14 who said they’d be interested in helping,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said. “Anytime kids can give back to the community, it’s great for the kids. It’s always good to get them giving back early like this.”
Byrd said one of the reasons he matched the local teams together is to have them temporarily put their competitive drive aside for a collective greater good, something Gray is happy to be part of.
“I think it’s important for the local teams to have interaction,” he said. “Of course we have a lot of local rivals but at the same time, we should build a relationship with the other guys.”