MADISON — It began as just an ordinary day at the McClain Center. Players were participating in drills, running around, talking with coaches, the usual practice activities–that is, until about half way through practice, when nearly 30 children walked onto the field and caught the players’ attention. They looked on at the kids for a bit and smiled, before shifting their focus back to practice in prep for the annual spring game.

These kids were from the Early Childhood Development Program at the Waisman Center. The proceeds from the Badgers’ spring football game will go to benefit the Waisman Center’s Early Childhood program. The program provides help to children ages one through five with learning disabilities. During a typical day in the preschool rooms, children participate in a variety of activities: self‐directed play, dramatic play, stories, music, art, and science. But today the kids got to do something a little extra special.

During practice, Waisman enrollees lined up on the sideline and watched as Badger football players ran drills. Some of them were so happy, they began dancing with their teachers. The children then left and received a tour of Camp Randall and all of its facilities for student athletes. One child even got to compete against a coach in a push up contest. Director of the Waisman Center Early Childhood Development Program, Joan Ershler, said that “It makes them a part of the community here, because football is such a big part of Madison.”

After practice ended, the children again took their spot on the sideline and waited patiently until Coach Chryst blew his whistle, signaling practice was over. Once the players broke the huddle, they quickly came running over to the kids and formed a line of their own. They began high giving all of them, some such as Rafael Gaglianone were more persistent and waited for each child to give him a high five.

Chris Orr was particularly enthusiastic about interacting with the kids. He encouraged them to “FINISH IT OUT! FINISH IT OUT!” as though they were his teammates. That kind of attitude was sure to motivate the kids, who were a little reluctant at first, to interact with the players.

Jack Cichy noticed one boy on the end, who had been using a walker to keep up with his classmates all day. Cichy ran over to him, skipping the rest of the line, and talked to the little boy. In a touching moment, he asked him how his day was going and earned a smile from the blonde haired little boy. Jack gave the boy his gloves and said that he wanted him to have them. Before leaving, Jack pried the boy for knuckles, but eventually settled for a high five instead.

Being able to watch their favorite players is beneficial in the early childhood program.

“To meet real athletes, you know they could grow up and be that size and that big, that proficient, it gives them kind of a view of what could possibly be and that’s what we want kids to have,” Ershler said.

One third of the children in the WECP have special needs, and the money raised at the spring game will go towards scholarships for more students.

“Increasing this fund will give more families access to assistance for tuition and therapy, urgent needs many currently cannot afford,”  Albee Messing, director of the Waisman Center, stated.

If you want to help more children get the help that they need (and deserve), buy a ticket to the Badgers Spring game here: Badgers Spring Football Tickets. Or, if you want more information on the Waisman Center, check here: Waisman Center Early Childhood Development Program.