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MERIDEN – Students at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden got a surprise at the end of Tuesday’s school day: Eight members of the Platt football team plus two coaches and a team manager came to talk to the students.
“(We) wanted to use football as a platform to come and talk to the kids about why school is important, the importance of education, surrounding yourself with positive people and role models,” Platt offensive coordinator Brian Frederick said.
Frederick is also a school counselor at Platt. He decided to put together this program, which he felt would benefit both his players and the youth of Meriden, the city where he was born, raised and now works.
“This is where I was born and I take a lot of pride in Meriden and in Platt high school,” he said. “I know these guys do as well. Overall, it’s just a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”
The program began after the Christmas break and they have already been to five local schools and have two more visits planned.
The Panther football players, who were approached by Frederick, said they jumped at the opportunity to do something that they wish they could have experienced when they were younger.
“I think it is very important to reach out to the youth,” Platt senior quarterback Lorenzo Sanson said. “They look up to us. We’re their role models, not only in sports, but in school. They have a positive role model to look up to in us.
“It’s just for the kids to be like, ‘Oh I’m going to be like him today, or he was just as small as I was, or he was in the same spot as I was.’”
Teammates joining Sanson were seniors Jake Baker, EJ Dudley, Nehemiah Vargas, Dom Colite, junior Julio Hernandez and sophomores Roberto Salas and Daniel Hand, along with team manager Julia Besler.
It has turned into something the athletes are excited to do.
“They have really embraced this. It’s something that they look forward to,” Frederick said. “It’s very easy to get them here and motivated because they want to share their story and talk to the kids and give back to the community.”
For the students, getting to see the athletes in person is something that is important, Ben Franklin principal Joanne Conte said.
“They look at the young men who came here to Benjamin Franklin as superstars,” she said. “They’re Greek gods to these young people right here and they’re excited.
“They want to talk to them. They want to interact with them. They want to see them out in the community and say ‘hello.’ Many of the young men have been here at Ben Franklin in the past.”
One of those young men is Platt coach Jason Bruenn, who attended Ben Franklin as a kid. He started Tuesday’s talk with a little school pride.
“I know what the best elementary school in the city is,” Bruenn said to the cheering students. “It’s the one where I went to school: Ben Franklin. There’s nothing better than being a Bulldog.”
At this stop, much like the others, the players took turns asking students questions about the importance of education, structure, and practice. They allowed the students to answer in front of the audience.
Then the students got to spend time with the players, asking them questions and even getting autographs.
One student sought out Platt wide receiver Jake Baker, telling Baker that he, too, was a receiver who played for the Meriden Raiders youth football team.
“He asked for tips and stuff, something that he could do to be better and be where I am now,” Baker said. “I was happy. I felt grateful that he asked me. It was an honor.”
Baker even got to show off his Stoddard Bowl MVP trophy, along with the team’s other trophies.
“I just liked giving back to the community, showing off the trophies, just all of us coming together and talking to the kids,” Baker said. “Hopefully, encouraging them to grow up like us, like role models.”
During the season, when Platt went 9-3 to reach the Class L semifinals, the Panthers hosted the different elementary schools at each home game.
The program just builds off the community service projects that Frederick and the coaching staff have started with the team.
“I love coming back and talking to the kids,” Sanson said. “I like hanging around kids, the community. I love Meriden. I just love everything about it.
“When I was younger, I wish the football players would have come to school and talked to us about the community. So, I think it’s really good that we give back to Meriden.”