Touchdown Club gives back through football team
By Angelina Bellebuono
“I want to give back.,” says Steve Collier, president of the Morgan County Touchdown Club for the past several years.
Last May, he watched his son Will walk across Legion Field at Bill Corry Stadium in a cap and gown. It was the same field on which Will had played beneath the lights on Friday nights, sporting a Bulldog jersey and the number 71.
Steve didn’t turn in his resignation when Will received his diploma. Instead, he’s right back in the stead as president, for another season.
It isn’t about his son on the field, Collier explains:
“In a small way, we are trying to help our community. Football keeps kids out of trouble. And the better citizens we have, the better community we have. Most of us have participated in something. Somebody gave to us. Somebody did it for me so I could have more. It’s my turn.”
When Bill Malone chose Luke 12:48 as the foundation verse for the Morgan County High School football team this year, he had no way of knowing that, again and again, the message in that verse would emerge.
...From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
The difference, it seems, in the stories surrounding the MCHS football team, is that those who understand the role the football program has played at the school and within the community don’t have to be asked to give back. Those who have benefited from involvement in the program (either personally or through their children, spouse, or distant relative) have returned, and continue to return, to see how they can be entrusted with more, an in-kind favor for what they have received.
By all accounts, Bill Cochran, Jr., was a man who believed in football. Those who knew him will explain, with passion, that he believed in what it offered, in how it helped young men, in what it provided in life lessons and personal growth, and its effect, long term, on the community as a whole. He played for Morgan County. His father played for Morgan County. His brother and his son played for Morgan County. But when he graduated from high school and was no longer on the team, he didn’t leave the program. His legacy of steady but humble, behind the scene involvement in the football program and the Morgan County Touchdown Club spanned decades. When Cochran was diagnosed with cancer last year, there was a wave of sadness that reverberated throughout the community, far beyond the reaches of the goal line or the locker rooms. In May, when Cochran lost his battle with the disease which too early claims too many lives, the family asked that any memorial donations be made to Madison Baptist Church or to the Morgan County Touchdown Club.
From that, the Morgan County Touchdown Club created the Bill Cochran. Jr., Memorial Fund, which, according to Malone, has already helped fund athletes attending FCA camp this past summer. The money donated, substantial financial gifts, allowed more than 40 Bulldogs to pay just $45 to attend this Christian-based camp. Those who attended called this year’s experience “life-changing.”
Lisa Hawkins doesn’t exactly look like she is the parent of a football player. Petite and fine-boned, perfectly coiffed and meticulously attired, she is femininity, embodied. Yet when her son. John Dustin (J.D.) became a MCHS Bulldog in 2007, Hawkins joined the Touchdown Club. And, like Collier, when J.D. graduated in 2011 to begin school at UGA, Lisa didn’t change her membership status.
Her desire to maintain involvement in the program arises from the same foundational thinking that Malone is working to instill in his team. She notes, firstly, that football isn’t just about throwing passes, or catching passes, or running plays.
“Football is about leadership. It’s about character,” she says.
Lisa swears by the experiences her son had on, and off, the field. J.D. played quarterback for the team, and he is also one of the players who went through, and returned, for the two, harrowing, back-to-back, 1-9 seasons that Lisa refers to as “character-building.”
Neither Lisa nor J.D. considered quitting in the face of such struggle, although she, like Malone and all the others who experienced that two-season span, will say that they were tough times. Yet she will clarify that the endurance and continued effort to survive that time was a powerful experience.
“This sport,” she says, “teaches life skills. It teaches the boys how to have relationships with people who are different than themselves. It encourages them to understand each other, and to push each other out of their comfort zones.”
Now, Hawkins’ younger son Dawson has decided to join the program, but in true younger brother fashion, with the stipulation that he not be confused with his J.D. The younger Hawkins is joined by several other freshmen athletes. Friends that have grown up together, according to Lisa. As expected, the parents of these boys are also longtime friends, former classmates, mothers with a strong sense of camaraderie. And they all have similar ideas about what football means to the community, and what lessons it offers, far beyond the hash marks and locker room.
“We [the parents] feel comfortable jumping in,” she says. “We want to help. And we want to teach our boys to give back. This is an opportunity to show the boys that they need to realize that there are so many more components to life than ‘I,’” she says.
This season, Hawkins is undertaking the role of communications. She will attempt to keep the flow of information moving among parents and the Touchdown Club and coaches. She knows that involvement from parents is critical in the program, but that involvement is only possible if people know what they can do to help.
Outside the Morgan County High School locker rooms, four young men have gathered on a muggy August morning. They came on their own accord, and they all came carrying the bulk of a winter coat, despite the weather. The jackets, adorned with the white letter “M” serve as testament to the time these fellows have dedicated to the football program.
The jackets, purchased for them and for any other two-year football program participant by the Touchdown Club, will likely become part of their individual stories as they continue on their path to adulthood.
From the new jerseys they will wear on opening night to the meals they are fed pre-game, to snacks and camp donations, to scholarships, to the amenities that allow them to get stronger and faster and more skilled, the Touchdown Club provides for the boys who continue the legacy of the program in this community.
Collier says that the funds are raised through the annual golf tournament, through donations, through Touchdown Club memberships. But that those who see the program, and get involved beyond the money, are likely to be affected by the stories and successes behind the scenes.
“There are such good kids on this team,” he says. “You see so many good things.” For him, his wife Shannon, and his daughter Amelia (who is one of two student trainers for the team), being involved in the football program through the Touchdown Club has been rewarding in ways he can’t exactly measure, but that he feels, profoundly.
“Our coaching staff and parents have done such a good job with the program. Every day, the players are so appreciative. My son benefited from this program. We're paying back. If [Shannon, Amelia and myself] staying around will convince someone that being this involved is worthwhile, then it will be worth it,” he says.
Collier and Hawkins both wish more would get involved. More community members, with or without athletes on the team. There’s nothing like access to this program, Collier says.
Being involved means seeing, firsthand, the successes that emerge beyond the field.
Open to anyone interested in supporting the team and the MCHS football program; tiered levels available, with annual memberships ranging from $60-$500;
contact Steve Collier, president, 706-474-2844 or Joey Alexander, membership chair, 770-616-3035
This group of alumni, athletes, parents, football aficionados, teachers, community members, religious leaders and a variety of others supports the team and the coaches through funding, volunteer efforts, running concession stands, cleaning up after games, providing snacks and meals for the team, promoting the program throughout the community in various ways, handling the annual golf tournament and other fundraising activities. This group prides itself on making sure that all players have access to the same level of equipment and training gear, as well as food and nourishment for the games. The Touchdown Club sponsors an annual banquet at the season’s end, celebrating and honoring the team’s athletes and coaches, and members are invited to attend, to sit alongside the athletes and to be a part of the program at a level other than in the stands or on the field.
• Donations (anytime, for any reason)
• For the Bill Cochran, Jr., Memorial Fund: send to Morgan County High School, Attn: Bill Malone
Any funds earmarked as such will be used specifically towards athletes attending camp during the summer. Malone says that Cochran was a strong proponent of camp, and that allocating these funds to that cause is to honor Cochran’s support of those programs.
• Volunteer (pre-game, post-game, fund-raising, general assistance, concession sales
• Participation: Join with a basic membership and come to the games. Support the team, the coaches, the parents and the program. Support the environment that teaches more than athleticism, but encourages development of life-skills, leadership and sportsmanship.
Printed in the August 3, 2012 edition