You always hear how football builds character and teaches life skills. Or that you learn as much about teamwork as you do about how to run a power sweep or how to tackle.
The Crete-Monee football team was an example of this July 28 when it and a total of 150 volunteers helped build a new playground at University Park's Craig Park.
Crete-Monee defensive lineman Travelle Smith can remember playing at Craig Park as a kid. He recalls playing on the same swing sets and slides that were still there until he and his teammates replaced them.
"It was great to make a contribution to the community and to see a new playground for those kids," Smith said. "It was just a totally great experience all around. I loved it."
Crete-Monee assistant football coach Greg Murray, who is the program supervisor for the Village of University Park Parks and Recreation Department, and Crete-Monee assistant boys basketball coach Al Hutton helped get the kids in motion.
"Man, I am so proud of what they did," Murray said. "Some of these kids don't live in University Park, but they played in this park, and they came back to make a contribution. When I asked, they volunteered."
Teammate Anthony Cephus, who lives in Park Forest, said it was also a learning experience.
"We got to pour concrete, put down mulch and tear down the old playground," Cephus said. "I had never done that. Plus, you talk with and meet new people. Everyone was there for a common goal -- to get the playground up."
Smith said it was new for him, as well. He had done some prior handyman work, but nothing of this magnitude.
"Learning how to mix the cement, getting it the right consistency," Smith said. "It was a lot of work, but it wasn't because we enjoyed doing what we were doing. Those kids have a new park (playground) and the big part is being involved in your community and helping out."
Murray said the project was part of the Kaboom/Blue Cross Blue Shield Build a Playground Day. The park department got a grant based on getting enough volunteers. He said when he put the word, out the players didn't hesitate to get involved.
These kids came through and got a different type of education. They learned what community involvement is and that hopefully will trickle down to other teens. The 9- and 10-year-olds who will play here will realize others chipped in so they could have a nice, safe place to play.
One day, they may build a new playground here or at a different park because they will remember what someone did for them.
Or as Crete-Monee High School athletes, they will realize that helping out your community is a big part of their education.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.