The University of Toledo football program shared the joy of victory with approximately 30 special needs students from around the area at its sixth annual Victory Day at the Glass Bowl.
Participating students met Rocket football players, ran drills on the field, and heard their names announced over the public address system as they scored a touchdown.Victory Day is an opportunity for special needs students to have their moment in the sun on the football field. Each student was partnered with a Toledo football player who served as his or her mentor for the day. Toledo cheerleaders also were there to cheer on the participants.
“I’m not sure who gets more out of this, the kids or our players,” said Head Football Coach Jason Candle. “It’s an awesome day to give a chance to a young person who may have some limitations to have a special day. We’re just happy that we are able to provide a smile today and an opportunity for our players to interact with the community.”
Many Rocket players said the event not only is a chance to make special connections in the community, but it also helps provide them with a sense of perspective.
“It’s a great honor to be able to see these kids enjoying themselves,” said senior running back Ronnie Jones. “It gives me a sense of humility knowing that there is something bigger out there than just you. Giving back is the biggest thing you can do. And the thing is, it doesn’t take a lot of effort. Just coming out and playing with a kid can make their day.”
Added senior center Bryce Harris, “We get a chance to do this all year round. I think we take it for granted sometimes. It’s a great opportunity for us to step back and let these kids be the Rockets for a day.”
Some of the students come back every year and have built special bonds with individual Rockets. Junior punter Bailey Flint has been paired with Nick Fish for three years.
“I’ve been able to build a relationship with Nick and his entire family,” Flint said. “They shoot me messages on what he’s doing, how he’s doing in school. He plays on an ice hockey team, and he brought half the team today, which is awesome. It’s really great to see these kids score a touchdown. That’s something that I’ve never even done.”
Victory Day was started in 2010 by Aaron Segedi, a teacher and football coach from Trenton, Mich., a cancer survivor whose life was saved thanks to a liver donation from his sister, Rhonda. Since then, the Victory Day program has been adopted by high schools and universities throughout the country.
The Rockets first celebrated Victory Day in 2014. Candle said he hopes the event will continue for years to come.
“We grow up looking up to athletes, entertainers and historical figures,” Candle said. “But there are some real heroes right in front of us with these parents. We have no idea what they go through on a day-to-day basis. It’s a very small piece in a big puzzle, but we’re happy to be a part of it.”