Tech athletes bond with local sixth graders

November 16, 2007

by Amelie Miltenberger

Seven nervous athletes stand in a hallway outside a closed door. Inside, dozens of journalists sit, notebooks on laps, pencils sharpened, waiting.

Friday afternoon finds A. E. Phillips teacher Sue Barfield’s sixth-grade class enjoying a sunny afternoon in the playground. When she calls for them to come in, they respond with a quickness not usually found in children being asked to leave the outdoors for a schoolroom.

Today is not like other days, and the children know it. Today the sixth-grade class is having seven Tech athletes visit and be the subjects of their interviews in a lesson about reporting.

The interview groups settle in, a handful of kids to a table, chattering excitedly and dispersing their list of questions evenly, so each of them has a turn being the reporter. “OK, guys,” says an eager boy from one of the groups, “We’re an interview team. Let’s do this!”

As the words leave his mouth, the door to the hallway opens, and, mouths agape, the youngsters watch their subject matter file in. Some of them instantly begin whispering the names of athletes they recognize.

Zach Champion, Tyler Miller, Quin Harris and Patrick Jackson of the Tech football team enter, followed by basketball Lady Techsters Shordy Mulford, Whitney Jones and April Williams.

Standing before the miniature media, the athletes look more nervous than the kids, who are half in awe and half enthusiastically waving their favorite player over to the table where they are sitting.

Barfield sends the athletes to their destinations, officially allowing the interviews to begin. The room instantly fills with voices.

Questions vary greatly from table to table. In one corner of the room, quarterback Champion answers questions ranging from explaining his dad as his biggest idol to his favorite food being his mom’s fried chicken.

On the other side of the room, Jackson tells his group, “Remember, school comes first before sports.” Amidst sharing details on his newly acquired 2007 Tahoe with 24-inch rims, Jackson also discusses the importance of teamwork, pointing over to Miller, saying, “He’s one of the big offensive linemen. Without him, there’s no me.”

Mulford answers questions about her family, while Williams, a native of West Monroe, explains her reason for choosing Tech to play basketball, saying, “I’ve been watching the Lady Techsters since I was your age, and also I play at Tech so my family can watch.”

By the time Barfield closes each interview session by taking a picture of each athlete with their group, all the children’s mandatory questions have been answered and they are busy debating with athletes about things like whether Pepsi is better than Coke. Some even take turns trying on Champion’s aviator sunglasses.

It is easy to see the children have bonded with the athletes, even though the total interaction between them was under an hour. Eventually, Techsters and sixth graders shake hands, pat heads and say their goodbyes.

An afternoon that started out with uncertain nerves ends with an impact on the sixth-grade class of A. E. Phillips that will stick with them through their journalistic assignment and could become something the seven Tech athletes will remember for the rest of their lives.