By Kris Freeman for The White House Connection (link to article)
Few would believe football games are won on Thursday morning at a local elementary school. For the White House High School program, this is the starting point for success.
Despite making consecutive appearances in the state playoffs for over two decades, WHHS builds the foundation long before students ever reach the high school. Senior players and managers each year go to H.B. Williams and Millersville Elementary Schools on Thursday to meet with teachers and students, and become role models for the kids.
The program is called Upstart B.D.P., in honor of the school’s slogan, Blue Devil Pride.
“Seeing the kids faces light up when we walk through the door means the world to me,” said senior lineman Wyatt Bailey. “At first, you feel like a superstar, and then you realize you want to see them as much as they want to see you.”
To the kids, the players are recognized in their jersey by number, and spend the season consistently with the same class, rotating between the two schools each Thursday and then returning to class at WHHS.
“My favorite player is Tyler Ellis. He’s number 85,” said Noah, a third-grader at H.B. Williams Elementary School. “He’s cool, but I don’t think they let him play quarterback. But I know he likes Buffalo Wild Wings because I see him and number 26 (Alex Felts) there all the time.”
For players, that recognition is as much about values and integrity more than on-field stats.
“You never know how much impact you will leave on a young child’s mind,” said senior linebacker Jamie Futch. “Describing yourself to them as a model citizen first may encourage that child to be just like you.”
The program began many years ago as a cooperation with the high schools and middle schools. At the opening of a high school in Robertson County, White House decided to maintain the opportunity on the Sumner County side at H.B. Williams and Millersville, which are each feeder schools to White House Middle.
“In our world today, our young people are in need of being held accountable for their decisions,” said White House head coach Jeff Porter, in his 27th season. “One of the ways that we have found effective is the Upstart B.D.P. Mentoring program. The players get to know the students in their classes, and it extends to the postgame on the field with students carrying their helmets to seeing their senior player in the community.
“This interaction helps to develop accountability with our players, in that they do not want to let down their students with unwise choices. And most of our players were once upstart students, so they have sat in their seats.”
Alicia Callis was a manager at White House, and the Blue Devils integrate the female managers into the program just like the players.
White House finished 10-3 and this senior class made four trips to the Class 4-A quarterfinals prior to their projected graduation this spring. They are the first class to accomplish this feat.
Taylor Wood was the leading tackler in White House history at the end of his career. But to his kids, being a role model was the most important.
“Teaching and seeing the kids that will one day be leaders in our community presents an incredible feeling,” the fullback and linebacker said. “You may not feel like you are great, but to them you are a hero. It was something special.”
Coach Porter says the key to the program is not just the kids, but the cooperation of the elementary school administration and teachers.
“The administration at H.B. Williams and Millersville deserve the recognition for the success of this program, along with our football secretary Debbie Richardson,” he said. “She oversees the Upstart B.D.P. program.”
Blue Devil Pride was a phrase first coined in 1985 when Joe Pryor, a football player at WHHS, challenged his team after a heart-breaking 3-0 loss to Madison High School. Coach Porter was an assistant on that team, and two years later became the head coach.
“I enjoyed getting to see the kids smiles when you walk in,” said senior defensive end Austin Browne. “It made it all worth it. Knowing what you had to say meant so much to them made waking up early all worth it.”
The Upstart program started in 1992. It took a two-year break during the transition of Sumner and Robertson County schools and has been a staple in the community since. It was also featured in 2010 in Tennessee Sports Magazine as an impact program in youth sports state-wide.
“Teaching kids about the basics of life is a blessing,” said senior center Corey Cantrell. “Talking to these kids every day has taught me that some of the simplest things in life are the most fun and the best.”