This story was originally written by John Frierson for Georgiadogs.com. To view the original article, click here.
Georgia student-athletes have always been more than just students and Bulldogs competing in the red and black. They’re leaders, role models and important members of the community.
In the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic has halted or altered so much of student-athlete life, one thing that has been missing is the broader Bulldog connection with schoolchildren in the Athens area and beyond. Georgia’s student-athletes are mostly taking online classes and staying as safe as possible, while children have spent much of the past year learning from home, as well.
On Friday afternoon, six Georgia Bulldogs from five different sports will get the chance to connect virtually with more than 100 fourth- and fifth-grade students at Brookview Elementary School in Atlanta.
As part of The Georgia Way’s Learn Play Excel program, track and field’s Kyle Garland and Nicholas Yanek, swimming and diving’s Callie Dickinson, men’s basketball’s Sahvir Wheeler, equestrian’s Isabelle Heckler and now-former football player Nate McBride will talk to the children about college life, how they worked in and out of the classroom to become Bulldogs, and anything else the children want to know about during the “Virtual College Tour.”
“We’re still trying to do things to help them out, we’re just not able to have that in-person experience, which is definitely a bummer because it’s nice being able to get face-to-face with everybody and to see them and make more of that personal connection. But at least we’re still able to do some good things, which is helpful,” said Yanek, a redshirt sophomore distance runner who also serves as Co-President of Georgia’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Learn Play Excel, Robert Miles, Director of the Life Skills Program for the UGAAA, said, “is the brand by which we extend an open arm to the community with our elementary school students.” That arm hasn’t had quite the same reach in the past year, at least not in person.
While individual Georgia teams have done some limited community interactions since the pandemic hit, and the UGA Athletic Association has had a tremendous impact on children in the Athens area with its WiFi hotspot fundraiser and snack and coat drives, there hasn’t been the broad community engagement and participation that’s normally a regular part of the student-athlete experience.
Miles said Friday’s online interaction will be the first like this in more than a year.
“In the past, we’ve done programming in many different ways as far as welcome back to school and end of the year celebrations, taking student-athletes to a campus, to a site, … and we haven’t been able to do that, in any way,” he said. “COVID cut all of that out.”
Looking through his calendar, Miles said the last time Georgia’s student-athletes were able to participate in something like this was on March 5, 2020, when some middle school students came to campus and got to spend some time with student-athletes.
Yanek, a high-achiever in the classroom and on the track, plans on going to medical school. Between his challenging courses to his regular demanding training regimen that often includes a 13-mile run first thing in the morning, he’s got a lot he can talk about with the students when it comes to trying new things and putting in hard work.
“I think my big message is just to explore any interest that you have, even if it’s really small. You don’t know what it’s going to turn into. That’s been a big thing with college, just the opportunities that you have are very immense, so just step your foot in and see how you like it.”