After Aaron Segedi, Defensive Coordinator for the Trenton (Mich.) High School football team, defeated cancer for the first time in 2005, he emerged with a new outlook on life. His sister had donated 70 percent of her kidney to him and he was extremely grateful both to her and for being alive, so he decided to respond by giving something back to his community.
This led him to implement a character development program with his football players called Victory Day that gives cognitively and physically impaired children an opportunity to be involved in football. Now in its third year, the success of the program is starting to be noticed nationwide.
Approximately 50 children are involved in the event each year, most of whom go to a local school catering to students with Down syndrome and autism. On Victory Day, each student is paired with a Trenton football player or cheerleader, who works with them throughout the morning. They participate in football or cheer drills, play a mock game, and are surrounded by the hoopla of a traditional high school contest. The highlight of the day is when each participant scores a touchdown against a defense made up of varsity football players.
"As the kids run for their touchdowns, our players dive and roll around 'trying' to tackle them," Segedi says. "There's also a play-by-play guy who does a terrific job. That's part of the fun for the kids, hearing their names called after they score."
In addition to the events on the field, participants are treated to a lunch cooked and donated by the Trenton Touchdown Club, the school band plays, and a photographer is on hand to capture the memories. The children and their families are also given free admission to the varsity game the night before, and are honored on the field prior to the contest.
While the event serves as a lifelong memory for the kids involved, it also is a great learning opportunity for the Trenton athletes. The football staff teaches a different virtue to the players each week during the season, and the virtue for Victory Day week is selflessness.
"The players really enjoy meeting the kids and working with them," Segedi says. "When they run for their touchdowns, some of our players will line the sides of the field and go crazy.
"It's also an eye-opening experience for them," he continues. "Sometimes the players complain about having to run in heavy pads, but they see that these kids who come to Victory Day would love to be able to do that."
While Victory Day will have its third running at Trenton this September, it is also starting to be duplicated at other high schools. Segedi says three schools in Michigan will hold their own Victory Days this year, as will one school each in Ohio and Kentucky. "We really want to get a lot of schools involved and turn this into more than just a Trenton thing," Segedi says.
For schools interested in starting their own Victory Day, Segedi says a key is to keep the event moving and the children occupied. He divides the participants into two groups. While one is waiting to score touchdowns, the other is participating in various football drills or learning cheers.
"They'll learn how to kick extra points through a youth goalpost, and how to tackle using dummies," Segedi says. "There are six different circuits in all. It's important to keep the kids active and moving. If you have 50 kids standing in lines it can turn into a nightmare.
"We also try to keep the activities to one and a half or two hours," he continues. "The attention span for the kids just isn't there for anything longer than that."
Segedi adds that the costs are minimal. "You don't need to have a big budget," he says. "We're in the process now of getting corporate sponsors to help out--for our own program and also to have seed money to help other schools get started.
"The biggest fear I've heard from people is that they don't have time to do it," he continues. "But I would encourage anyone to try, because it's so rewarding. What you gain far outweighs the time you put into planning it. It's amazing to see the faces of the parents watching their child run across the goal line, or to see a father pushing his daughter into the end zone in her wheelchair. It's a very moving day."
For more information on Victory Day, visit: victorydayfootball.com