To measure the Island Creek fifth graders' character achievements, Tara Carlson designed a football game for her class, with a cloth football field dangling from the wall, and footballs that were moved when individual students scored character points. At the end of the exercise, five Hayfield Hawk football team captains addressed the class, stressing how character enabled them to finish a winning season at six and four.
"This year, our team had a lot of character," said Carlo San Diego, sporting a number seven jersey at the school on Wednesday, Dec. 17. "It's more than just talent. It's the teamwork that can get you further."
"We all bonded together," said Hayfield junior Pat Martin.
Martin and San Diego came to Island Creek with fellow captains Matt Downing, Michael Brown and Marcus Jones to share their experiences with the fifth graders. Since September, Carlson used football and teamwork to teach the importance of teamwork and character. The players towered over the students, as the youngsters hung on every word.
"It's all about teamwork, sports gets the kids excited. Good character, this is what we stress in the classroom," Carlson said.
Coach Billy Pugh brought the five players because they showed the most character on the team this year.
"These kids all made great sacrifices," he said.
Downing remembered one game in particular in which teamwork played a role. Against the Annandale Atoms this fall, the Hawks intercepted a pass and suddenly the defensive players took on an offensive role.
"He ran it back, picture perfect. One block, two blocks, everyone was working together," Downing said.
Pugh remembered a play in which San Diego got hurt trying to score for the team.
"Carlo got hurt on a quarterback sneak," Pugh said. "It was the ultimate sacrifice."
One student asked which character trait was the most important.
"Personally, I like trustworthiness," Brown said. "When Carlo goes back as the quarterback, he trusts that I'm going to block for him."
Brown's experience with football goes back farther than on the Hayfield football team. His father was a Green Bay Packer in the National Football League for eight years when Brown was a child.
"I think I learned in general how to present myself," he said.
After the players talked about their personal experiences, they read from "Don't Laugh At Me," a book that stressed the importance of respect. Then they all got a chance to share some advice with the students.
"Live your life now," said Downing.
"Take advice and listen," said San Diego.
Authentic Hayfield football jerseys and autographed balls were given out to the students who showed extra character to Carlson. Eamonn Eshman, 10, didn't hesitate to put on the jersey he won, bearing number 66.
"I'm going to wear it to football games," Eamonn said. "I'm going to go to Hayfield and I'll most likely play baseball. That's my favorite sport."