Wake Forest Steps Up

Wake Forest steps up
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How do you spend your time post-Spring camp when you are a program at the height of its success over the last 15 years? Wake Forest steps up for a special part of its local community.

Wednesday night the Demon Deacons hosted “Victory Day,” in conjunction with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem. More than 100 kids of varying ages, all living with Down Syndrome, and their families were afforded the chance to live a Demon Deacons football experience at Truist Field on the Wake Forest campus.

The young athletes wore special jerseys to commemorate the day. They and their families toured the Wake Forest football locker rooms and got to take pictures with some of the football gear on.

Once they got the photo ops in the locker room, it was time to take the field. The Wake Forest football players and cheerleaders formed a tunnel outside the locker room doors. Each participant was introduced via the Truist Field PA system as they got to run out on the field and take their places for a group photo.

Wake Forest steps up

The players and coaches guided them through a series of on-field drills set up, particularly for them. They were giving the guidance on hitting the tackling dummies, taking on blocks, and running back high stepping drills.

Each participant was greeted at the end of the drill with tremendous support from the players and the Wake support team. Going through the running back drills also meant learning how to spike the ball and do celebration dances. Many of the kids needed no urging. They had seen enough football at the higher levels to have the moves down.

Wake Forest steps up

The Wake Forest player participation was completely voluntary. By our count, there were no fewer than 70 of the Wake football players and coaches sharing the experience with the kids on the evening. They were joined by the Demon Deacon cheerleaders and other members of the Wake Forest athletic department. And this was top-down participation. Head coach Dave Clawson was the host, along with his coaching staff. As for the players, no one was above participating for the benefit of the kids. The list of player volunteers was from quarterback Sam Hartman all the way through the positions and depth chart for Wake.

Clawson said his players benefitted from the event as much as the kids. “You see how much they enjoy it. You can’t fake that enthusiasm,” he said. “They’re not doing it for publicity. They’re not doing it for any other motivation than out of the goodness of their heart,” he said.

Clawson called it, “A very impactful night.”

Lauren Hayworth did not need to be convinced. We sat with her while her son Lucas went through the running back drills. There was no tiring him out, no matter how many times he did each drill. Ms. Hayworth told us Lucas had been looking forward to the event because there had been too much downtime from his last sporting event last month. She said the family was already committed Wake Forest supporters. But this would cement Lucas as a devoted fan of the players. At one point he went off to the side and went down with what looked to be a minor leg injury. Ms. Hayworth advised us not to be fooled. There was an ulterior motive, she assured us. A little attention and encouragement from a couple of Wake Forest cheerleaders and Lucas was hustling back to the line for more drills.

Wake Forest steps up
Lucas Hayworth celebrates getting through the running back drills. (Photo from Tony Siracusa).

Wake Forest held its first held Victory Day event in 2019. Covid put a halt to it for the next two years. But Clawson said there was no doubt there was the commitment to bring it back. “It’s one of those events that you do it, and you always get more out of it than you put into it,” he said after the event.

While parents got the enjoyment of watching their kids run around a college football field and interact with college football players and coaches at the highest levels, the kids got their memories to hold on to. After the drills, all of the Wake participants stayed around to sign autographs for the kids. There were also items that will be put up for auction at the association’s Starlight Gala next week. Clawson said his football program was committed to, “Give parents who have a special needs child, a night where they can see their son or daughter laugh, and smile, and enjoy themselves. And it gives them just a little bit of a break,” he said.

When asked about his thoughts on his own participation, Clawson paused before acknowledging the deeper meaning the event had for him. “You do events like this, and you’re always wondering if you’re ever doing enough,” he said reflectively. “I think it is that for all of us, right? You look at something like this, and you see all the smiles it brings out. And you wish you did more of it. It’s always the challenge of how to spend your time between your football team, your family, and community events. You wish there were more hours in the day.”