High school football: Olympus seniors put best foot forward in community service

Published: Monday, April 21 2014 9:05 p.m. MDT

Olympus student body officers and the Be Strong Committee pose for a picture with the school's banner announcing their Samaritan's Feet project. One member, Connor Haller, is being honored for his service efforts.

Kirk H. Miller

SALT LAKE CITY — If it wasn’t for his football coach’s commitment to doing more than winning football games with his young athletes, Connor Haller said he probably wouldn’t care about helping other people as much as he does.

“I don’t know if I’d have a desire to do it like I do,” the Olympus senior said of participating in service projects with his team, his school and on his own. “Almost every week, after we watched film, we would go help somewhere, like with Eagle Scout projects or something. That’s kind of where I developed my love for service.”

Some weeks, that was a tough sacrifice for a teenage football player still recovering from a brutal Friday night game.

“You always feel good after service,” Haller said. “You always feel like it was a good use of your time, even though sometimes you want a nap. The service makes you feel so great about yourself.”

Haller is among 13 senior football players who earned scholar-athlete awards from the Utah chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The seniors apply for the award, which includes a crystal trophy, a ring donated by Jostens, and a $1,000 scholarship to the college of their choice. Earning awards for athletic accomplishment and/or academic achievement is nothing unusual.

But the critical component to the scholarships awarded by the group at the chapter’s 20th annual banquet Tuesday night at UVU is commitment to community service.

“It’s the most important aspect,” said board member and Corner Canyon athletic director Steve Park of balancing service with athletic skill and academic accolades. “Because I think that’s the true character of student-athletes. That aspect is really what shows what those kids are all about.”

It’s a priority that many high school coaches, teachers and administrators share. One of the service projects that Haller was involved in came from his participation in a service class, while another was a yearlong project undertaken by his entire school at the suggestion of their principal, Mark Manning.

Manning was at a national conference as part of his service for the Utah High School Activities Association’s executive committee when he learned about Samaritan’s Feet. It’s a program that raises money to buy shoes for financially disadvantaged schoolchildren. He suggested it to his student body officers and a group that Haller belongs to, the Be Strong Committee.

“Mr. Manning just talked about how we’re so lucky and fortunate to have this nice, new school, and he thought it would be a great way to show the community, and give back, that we really are appreciative and grateful,” Haller said. “There are kids in our own district (who) aren’t fortunate enough to have just the basics, like shoes. Our goal was to raise $8,000, which equals about 500 shoes, and give them to kids in our district.”

Manning said that while he made the suggestion, it was the students who ran with the idea. Dozens of students assumed responsibility and leadership for the fundraising efforts, which spanned December and January.

“It’s really critical for our students to participate in service,” Manning said. “It’s a great way for our students to appreciate what they have and reach out, in a very small way, and help others.”

The project will end on May 2 when about 75 students, who either provided leadership or donated at least $20, will deliver the shoes to an elementary school in the district. Officials have already asked the elementary students to provide their shoe sizes if they want shoes, and Manning said nearly every student in the school has expressed a desire to have a pair of shoes.