April 23, 2002
|UT hosted the 2002 April Play Day at Thompson-Boling Arena.|
It was a time for the Vol athletic program to reach out to the community, as more than 300 children from Knoxville area Boys and Girls Clubs had a chance to meet and greet UT student-athletes and see them off the court and outside the lines, seeing them as real people, not just a number on a jersey.
"This is the third year for 'April Play Day,'" said Molly Justice of the CHAMPS/Lifeskills Program in the Thornton Center. "The players are able to be a mentor to the kids and can talk to them about staying in school and studying so they can go to college someday, maybe even as a student-athlete."
The event was a chance for young children to play and interact with UT student-athletes, listen to motivational talks by football players Jason Witten and Kevin Burnett and Lady Vol volleyball player Janelle Hester, and see that going to college is an attainable goal with a little hard work.
"I tell the kids to think big," said Witten, who remembered seeing Lawrence Taylor in Elizabethton when he was younger. "I tell them not to let anybody deny their dreams. This is a great event for the kids and for the community."
The carnival-like atmosphere included numerous activities such as putt-putt, face painting, race the athlete, play catch with a player, and several blow-up games such as an inflatable boxing ring, bungee run and an alpine obstacle course. A D.J. was also on hand to provide music throughout the afternoon. One particular highlight was Burnett, Andy Ikeakor and Troy Fleming competing with the kids in attendance in a hastily-arranged hula hoop competition. Another highlight was seeing kids and Vol athletes each trying to shoot an oversize basketball into an oversize goal.
"The kids see that student-athletes can enjoy themselves," Justice said, "and can be good role models, too. It was a fun time for everybody to get together."
During April, hundreds of universities across the country will commemorate National Student-Athlete Day. National Student-Athlete Day honors student-athletes and the network of parents, coaches, teachers and school systems that make it possible for young people to strike a balance between academics and athletic achievement.