PHOENIX – After going through their second day of practice at the Fiesta Bowl on Monday, members of the Ohio State football team took some time to give back.
A group of about 50 Ohio State football players – primarily true freshmen, specialists and walk-ons, all clad in Santa hats – made a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Phoenix on Monday to participate in the “Shop with a Jock” event, in affiliation with Fiesta Bowl Charities and Child Crisis Arizona, in which each player partnered with a local child in need to guide them through a $200 shopping spree for clothing, shoes and sports equipment of their choice. Each child was also gifted a comforter from PlayStation, the Fiesta Bowl’s title sponsor.
“For any child to have $200 just to be able to go shopping in a store is an incredible opportunity. But all the children that we have here today at Child Crisis Arizona, they’re about 200% below the poverty limit. So truly, this experience is a once-in-a-lifetime deal for these kids,” said Torrie Taj, the CEO of Child Crisis Arizona, a nonprofit who works with at-risk children and families throughout Maricopa County. “They’re able to come in and pick the tennis shoes that they want and the socks and the name brands that they probably can’t usually get. So for them, this is such a memorable experience, and to be looking up to these big players, I mean, truly, they are just in awe.”
Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison was among the players who participated, and he described the event as “very rewarding.”
“It’s rewarding to take part in events like this because it’s a reminder that not everyone is as fortunate as we are,” said Harrison. “I love doing this. I love being able to put a smile on a kid’s face.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods and Fiesta Bowl Charities, the giving arm of the Fiesta Bowl, each funded 50 percent of the shopping spree for the children.
Mike Nealy, the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, said he believes it is critical for the Fiesta Bowl – which is also a nonprofit – to give back to the community through events like Monday’s, and that it’s never difficult to get teams to participate.
“We’ve been doing this for about five years, having the outreach with the teams that are in, and I’ll say it’s been amazing that every year, all the teams are 100 percent in favor of coming out to do something, and Ohio State was no exception,” Nealy said. “We do have the football games and that’s a big part of what the Fiesta Bowl is, but we’re more than just a game. It’s also one of those things that the teams that are here, they embrace this, and it’s neat to see these student-athletes that want to be part of something, part of the community.”
Taj said that while she and her staff do their best to motivate and inspire the children they work with and encourage them that they should not be defined by the financial or family situations that they come from, having the opportunity to spend time with Ohio State football players can give them a real-world example for what they can achieve.
“Lots of these players come from families just like some of the children,” Taj said. “So it’s a great thing for them to be inspired by players.”
Clemson’s football team will participate in a community service event of its own on Wednesday in partnership with Fiesta Bowl Charities’ Wishes for Teachers program.
Click through the photo gallery at the top of the page to see images from Monday’s event.