With a bye this week, many members of the Penn State coaching staff were on the road recruiting Saturday morning. But cornerbacks coach and defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith had a much more important task.
He served as Grand Marshal of the Buddy Walk, an annual fundraising event held by the Centre Country Down Syndrome Society. Smith, his family and 11 Nittany Lions pitched in to help on a morning where lots of laughter kept minds off the chilly, breezy weather at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
It's an honor, Smith said. It's a tremendous thing to be a part of. It's an opportunity for us to come together to raise some funds to better help the chances of kids with Down syndrome in Centre County.
One of those kids is named Haley Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore at State College Area High School. Her parents are Terry and Alison Smith.
It touches home for me, Terry Smith said.
And because of that, he understands that events like Saturday's -- which raised nearly $27,000 at last count -- are not just about the money. They also involve teaching folks about Down syndrome.
The kids are missing a chromosome from birth, Smith said. So it's nothing they're responsible for. They learn. They just learn at a different rate than us as average people. But they can learn, they can function on their own.
This event today is to help raise awareness and help get community support so these kids, as they grow into adulthood, can start to function on their own, live on their own and have a place in society where they function just like you and I.
There was plenty of fun in this fundraiser, too. The Penn State football players were in the middle of it, along with their new friends. They played games like bag toss, mini golf and bowling.
When some of the kids and adults from the Society put on a dance show, the Nittany Lions cheered them on. Offensive linemen Chance Sorrell and Adam DeBoef, who both check in at a towering 6-foot-5, had lion paws painted on their faces and could be seen singing along to the song Let It Go from Frozen. (It was clear the cold didn't bother them, anyway.)
“There’s so many people that have great hearts and great passion to help the Society. I’m just honored and proud to be a part of such a great event.”
Earlier, many of the kids on hand posed for photos with and got autographs from the PSU players. Some of the children had Down syndrome, some did not -- it didn't really seem to matter.
It's just a good experience to come out here and do a good deed, said receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who posed for more photos and signed more autographs than anyone else. It's nice to know you have a support system from different types of people -- all sizes and shapes.
Like Smith, this event hit home for Hamilton, too. His older brother, Darius, has autism, and has never spoken in his life. When they were children, DaeSean often had to look after his brother when their parents were at work.
With that in mind, he has a special appreciation for all of the parents, siblings and volunteers who help the people with Down syndrome.
Being a special-needs parent or even a special-needs kid is really a full-time responsibility, he said. I can appreciate everything the people do out here. So I just wanted to come out and give back.
Added Smith: There's so many people that have great hearts and great passion to help the Society. I'm just honored and proud to be a part of such a great event.
The Walk itself took place on the warning track of the baseball field at Lubrano Park. The football players were out in front, sort of like lead blockers, followed by Smith and his family, and then several hundred participants. After one lap, the players and the Smith family stopped and gave high fives and hugs to the rest of the walkers as they started off on their second lap.
The second lap was a bit more chaotic, as many kids -- because they are kids -- began running and goofing off. Some of them had Down syndrome, some did not -- it didn't really seem to matter.
And on this bye week Saturday morning, neither did football recruiting.
It's really cool, Smith said. A lot of things we take for granted in life, it's a challenge for these kids. It's an awesome thing to see these kids overcome challenges and just be so functional in society.