By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
In the early 1980s, a youth football coach in Alabama forged a plan to change the lives of his players.
If they worked hard in school, kept their grades up, minded their parents and teachers, practiced and played hard, exhibited sportsmanship and a good attitude, they would be rewarded with a trip to a professional football game after their season ended.
That decision did, indeed, change lives, one of which was that of Chris Daniels, son of that Mobile, Ala., football coach.
“He changed lives,” Daniels said. “It changed my life.”
After retiring from a 20-year Air Force career, Daniels decided to try and change some lives in Enid after taking the job as chief of protocol at Vance Air Force Base.
That 1983 trip to see the New Orleans Saints play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made such an impression on Daniels, he wanted to create a similar opportunity for young athletes here.
So he organized a trip for some 40 local youth football players and eight adults to the recent game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns.
He called on the contacts he made during his years pursuing his other occupation — umpiring in both collegiate and professional baseball, and made the trip happen.
Forty players from the Enid Cowboys of Enid Joint Recreation Triad, both the third- and fourth-grade and the fifth- and sixth-grade teams, made the trip, boarding a bus at Oakwood Mall early on the morning of Nov. 18, riding to Cowboys Stadium, enjoying the game and then returning home that night.
In addition, Daniels obtained 40 tickets for members of the third- and fourth-grade Enid Titans, but they made their own travel arrangements.
The Cowboys offered the tickets to Edwards’ group for half price, $50 per ticket. Through fundraising efforts and sponsorship, 15 of the participants paid nothing to make the trip. The trip cost those who could pay $70 each, which included the tickets, transportation and three meals.
“This whole vision came about as a way to reach the youth,” said Daniels.
Thanks to the promise of the trip, Daniels said, “We were able to get at least five or six kids to bring their grade point averages up at least two points.
“That’s what this is really about, using sports to connect with youths.”
The bus line the group rode was the same one that transports the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football teams to games. Their driver was scheduled to transport OSU to Norman for Saturday’s Bedlam Series football game. When he was told that, one player said, “eww,” thinking the bus would be filled with large, sweaty football players.
But he was told the players would be nicely dressed, and would most likely be wearing a tie.
So another player said, “I need to tell my mom to hurry up and go get me a tie.”
The young men’s excitement was palpable throughout the day, Daniels said, despite the long bus ride down and back.
“The energy was unbelievable,” he said. “Those kids were so hyped up. They were not ready for that day to end.”
Daniels hopes to make the trip an annual event, and plans to expand it to baseball and basketball teams, as well.
“The vision is to reach these kids, to give them a goal and a purpose,” he said. “This is the trip of a lifetime and I intend to make it better each year. This is to get these kids’ attention, setting something out there for them to want to aspire towards.
“This is a very reachable goal, and as my dad always said, ‘To be successful you have to set reasonable goals.’ This is a goal every kid can reach.”
Daniels said he intends to make the trips affordable for the youngsters and their families, or free if the need arises.
“I’m not going to leave any kid behind,” said Daniels.
He said he expects next year’s trip to be even bigger and better.
“The seed is planted, now it is just time to harvest it,” Daniels said.