By Travis Sloat
For many high school football players, the final horn in a game on Friday night is the start of the weekend — sleeping in, and relaxing. But for the Fort Gibson Tigers, giving their all in a 35-32 victory over Catoosa on Friday night wasn’t good enough. So, they woke up early Saturday morning and gave something else: Their time.
J.R. Singleton, the quarterback for the Tigers, said many of the players who volunteered at the Kelly B. Todd Walk on Saturday morning were starters who played both sides of the ball, and some on special teams.
“Coach suggested some of the starters take the later shift so they could get some rest,” Singleton said. “But we went out early anyway. We have a great group of seniors leading our team this year.”
James Singleton, head coach of the Tigers, said a lot of the players thought they’d get their two hours done early and head home, but most of them wound up staying for the whole event.
“When I took the coaching job last year, I told our guys I wanted them to be successful on the field and off,” James said. “The coaching staff encourages them to all get 15 hours of community service a year. I want them to see things from a different perspective.”
The team was all smiles on Saturday, playing with kids that suffer from cerebral palsy and other neuro-muscular disorders. They ran a flip-flop roulette wheel as well as a game tent, which had a bowling alley, a basketball hoop, and a ring toss.
McKenna Terrell, a sophomore tight end and defensive back, said the team has worked hard on and off the field this year, and he described Saturday’s experience as “amazing.”
“I was tired,” Terrell said, “but it was worth it. It was awesome to go out there and see how those kids live their lives to the fullest. It inspired me to try to live my life that way.”
The team got off the bus Friday night at midnight, and many were at Civitan Park at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to help get things set up. During the course of the day, they participated in the walk, interacted with the kids, and doled out candy and prizes — all without checking their cell phones or managing to look bored.
Jere Gibson, school board president, attributes that to the leadership the players are getting on and off the field.
“How many high school coaches think about community service?” Gibson said. “He has revamped our football program, not only in the way they play, but also in the way they see people. That takes great leadership.”
J.R. Singleton said as the coach’s son, he thinks his dad expects a little more out of him than others, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Being out there and seeing those kids smiling was amazing,” J.R. said. “We got to play basketball with them, the bean toss, and I even got in the dunk tank. It really gave me a new perspective on how blessed I am.”
The players tried to get the coach in the tank, but he bowed out due to not wearing “the right kind of clothes.” He gave his word that he would be in it next year.
“Our team will be a staple at this event for as long as they have it,” James said.
As for setting an example, James said he and the other coaches have explained that they aren’t perfect, but they are going to be the best role models they can for the players.
“We put the players through some physical and mentally demanding events,” the head coach said. “And we tell them that good things will happen to those that work hard. These guys have bought into that. They’re reaping a few of the rewards right now.”