2002 Butkus Finalist Courtney Watson sat in reading den surrounded by kids. The smile on his face looked like he had just won the Butkus. "I had an idea and I wanted to do something that was strictly non-sports related with the team and the community and kids," said Watson. "I had a whole bunch of ideas that all kind of came together as this. I came to the South Bend Public Library with the idea and they loved it. They really embraced it and made it into the success that it is. It's the perfect place to have it and the kids really love it."
The idea was to get Notre Dame Football players together with the kids and to spend time talking about the importance of academics, the arts and for a little fun. The event grew into a two-weekend event this year with a picnic held last week with games and food. "Brandon Hoyte came up with that idea," said Watson. "That was for a select few people. Certain kids from certain centers like the Robson Center, the YWCA, the Urban League, places like that. It's just a fun day to get these kids on Notre Dame campus and to interact with them. Last weekend was kind of a way to let the kids know about this weekend. Last year we weren't able to get a lot of those kids here and that's what we wanted so Brandon came up with the idea and it's worked out well because we have all the kids that we had last weekend and more."
Hoyte said when he heard about the Tackle the Arts program he knew he had to be involved. "I was involved with it last year and I loved it. We thought about it and how to improve it. Dan Stevenson, Courtney Watson, I and the rest of the team came up with this idea and we wanted to make it even bigger and better. We decided to invite four groups of inner-city kids for a recreation event. We were playing dodge ball and games like that. You can't imagine a guy like Mark LeVoir who is 6-7 running the three-legged race with some nine year old kid. We all really enjoyed it. What that did was to promote today's event because our focus is academics and to help kids succeed in that way. I'm still a kid too, I'm only 19 and I'm still learning so we wanted to tell them that learning never stops. What we are trying to teach these kids is that you have to put that same enthusiasm you have for playing sports into excelling in the classroom."
The attendance was impressive for both Irish players and the kids. Each Irish player was sat with a group of kids reading, creating art and writing. The Irish band also stopped by for a marching session while playing the fight song as the kids jumped in line for a march around the library. Father's held the poster and the pen for the autograph and one isn't certain who was more excited about the autograph—father or son/daughter.
Dan Stevenson sat in the corner with a book reading to a little guy. The intimidating side of Stevenson was pushed far into the corner of his mind for this day and the big teddy bear in Stevenson was clearly present. "This event is awesome. It's our way of spending time with the kids and to try to show them that we're just people too. We try to tell them that academics are important, just as important as sports and that hard work got us here. It gives us a chance to really make that point instead of just an autograph session. It's fun to chase these little kids around and laugh with them because that is so much more personal and they will remember that and what we are trying to tell them more than just signing an autograph."
Quarterback Pat Dillingham found a girlfriend who wouldn't leave his side, a cute little redhead who only had interest in Dillingham. "It's just a great way to put a smile on these kids' faces," said Dillingham of the event. "We all enjoy it and it's completely optional to be here so you can see how much we all wanted to do this. It's just a different way to spend time with the kids and to talk to them about the importance of education. This is the second year and it's growing so we're all happy to see that."
Starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday probably enjoyed this event as much as anyone. He wasn't the center of attention this day and really seemed to enjoy just being a regular guy. "I think we owe it to the kids and everyone in this community to come out here and have events like this. They do so much for us. They're our number one fans and show us so much support. These kids really enjoy this and it's a nice way to get involved with the community and to give back. I can sit here and play computer games with these kids and talk to them about education, sports or whatever. Most kids don't get that opportunity to spend that much time with us. I think we all enjoy it and it's getting bigger every year."
The event was a way to see a different side of the Notre Dame football players. Many Irish players were present and they were having as much fun as the kids. The event will likely grow in popularity as it's a really neat way for the kids to meet their heroes and for the Irish players to actually make an impact on the lives of some of these kids. Watson and the team should be applauded as this event was something very uplifting to see.