Heroes to look up to

October 12, 2023

Spitler student Aiden Dennert (#54) and Pirate football player Payden Stone (#88).

Heroes to look up to

Hart’s Buccaneer Buddies program creates a lasting impact

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

Pirate News is a presentation of Hart Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press. 

HART — The Buccaneer Buddies program at Hart Public Schools creates lasting friendships between the varsity football players and elementary students.

Brody Clark (#13) throws the football to an unidentified Spitler student.

The little kids have heroes to look up to — both literally because of their size difference and figuratively because of their positive impact — as they play games outside at recess, engage in fun classroom activities and just enjoy each other’s company.

With the recent success of the Pirate football program, the teenage boys enjoy taking a little break from the mental stress of games every Friday to visit their little buddies at the elementary school.

“I really enjoy building relationships with the younger kids,” said junior Eman Hertzler. “Before you know it, they’re going to be in our situation and they will get to do it for the kids below them. It’s really nice getting to do this for these kids.” 

Hertzler said he enjoys seeing the young students out and about in the community, and they recognize him and greet him. “You have that lifelong bond with those kids.”

Hart Pirate football players Brendan Hiddema (#17) and Ethan Castro (#5) play basketball with elementary students Brantley Bateson, Genivie Salazar, and Allisson DeLaCruz.

“You see them out in the community, and they just run up to you.” said Junior Ty Schlukebir. “They also come to the games, and just seeing them at the games is cool.”

“We just get down to their level and interact with them,” said Schlukebir. 

The mentorship program has been running at Hart Public Schools for three years. Pirate athletes visit with their younger Buccaneers every Friday during the last half hour of the school day — just hours before their Friday night games.

“It kind of takes the edge off,” said Schlukebir. “It gives you a break from thinking about the game.”

“It helps you unwind the stress by coming here,” said Hertzler. “You can just be yourself — be your goofy self and hang out with these kids and give them a good time — a time that they look forward to. You do things like this, and they will remember it for a long time.”

“They look up to us,” said Schlukebir.

Dean DeVries, who is the Pirate assistant varsity football coach and elementary physical education teacher, introduced the program to the district. “The last three years when Coach (Joe) Tanis took over as the head coach and I joined him on staff, it’s one of the things I really wanted to implement. There are so many people involved in it. The high school teachers allow the football players to leave during sixth hour.” They report to the elementary school at 2:45 p.m., and the school day ends at 3:15 p.m. 

“They’re missing the last half hour of their class but they’re building connections with people,” said DeVries.

“The elementary teachers plan some sort of activity to do with them whether it’s reading to the class or sometimes they go outside for recess especially if it’s nice out.

“We just wanted a way to build a community type atmosphere with the football team and have our little kids look up to them.”

DeVries participated in a similar program when he attended Grandville High School. “It’s something I did in high school, and it was one of the biggest impacts on me. We were the Bulldogs, so we called the Bulldog Buddies.”

The Buccaneer name comes from the pee wee football program in Hart. “A buccaneer is a smaller pirate or a younger pirate.

“Generally on the varsity team we have 20-25 kids, and we have about 20 classrooms. So, I send one to each classroom, and there are a couple classrooms that have two kids in it. Our players love it. They get to be the center of attention for a bunch of little kids.

“It’s been a fantastic thing because for a long time football struggled here. So there hasn’t been that connection. We really want to get our youth excited about it.” With a 6-1 record and eyeing a state playoff berth, Hart could have its most successful season ever this year. “This would be the first time Hart football has made the MHSAA (Michigan High School Athletic Association) playoffs in the school’s history.” 

DeVries said he is thankful for help and flexibility displayed by everyone involved in Buccaneer Buddies. “It’s help from everywhere, though. The principals support it at all levels and the athletic director. The teachers here have been great — it’s one more added thing on their plate, and they’ve been like, ‘Sure, bring them over, and we will find something for them to do.’ It really brings together all three buildings.

“I teach here, so I hear all these kids talk about their Bucc Buddies, and now they have someone to connect with if they go to the game on Friday night.”

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