When Ricky Williams comes to Austin, he’s not usually going back to school. But yesterday in the Sims Elementary School library, the Longhorn football hero hung around the campus to mentor 20 of “Ricky’s Kids.”
With the fate of next year’s NFL season up in the air and lots of free time this offseason, the decorated Longhorn football alumni and Miami Dolphins running back found time to see how his pilot after-school program is going. Ricky’s Kids, started by the Ricky Williams Foundation, aims to create a nurturing environment that fosters intellectual and emotional growth for underprivileged third to fifth graders. The goal, Williams said, is to create as many memorable experiences for the kids as possible and to make them feel like a part of a family.
What was on the docket for Williams’ visit? Nothing out of the ordinary. For the kids, it was business as usual. First, the daily group discussions about anything and everything, followed by their “super brain yoga” activity. The program then went into snack time — hummus and pita chips on Thursday — and then onto their outdoor team-building exercise, which led into homework help and environmental activities. Williams was there, right alongside the kids, for all of the activities.
“There are certain parallels between my childhood and the kids here,” Williams said. “I was overwhelmed when I was in third grade, and on certain levels, like in my reading class, I couldn’t really catch up to the other kids and didn’t have that type of support to do so. These kids often go home to single-parent households where they are pretty much on their own. We help them develop discipline and a work ethic and enforce the importance.”
One of the students profoundly affected by Williams’ program was third grader Edward Rogers. Rogers, who comes from a single-parent household, said the program has made him feel more confident about himself and his intellectual abilities. He was recently named one of the program’s “scholars,” a distinction that Sims Elementary School principal Freda Mills said is a testament to Williams’ program.
“I feel good about being a scholar because it means I’m keeping up my grades, and it’s going to help me when I grow up,” Rogers said.
Everyone wanted to pick Williams’ brain. Even when the multitude of reporters bugged Williams about NFL questions, his career and the possible lockout, Williams politely deflected the statements back to the kids, not wanting his whole life to be defined by the sport.
“I’m confident there will be an NFL season next year, but I think it is programs like this that get me through constantly thinking about football,” Williams said. “The program gives me a great feeling, and it offers a lot to the kids as well.”
The kids didn’t let him off the hook either.
“Why do you have a microphone on your shirt?” one young girl said.
“Ricky, do you know Spanish?” a boy from across the room ran over to ask.
“Do you have a son?” inquired another.
Williams answered each question patiently, refusing to run over details. This, in essence, is what the after-school program is about — allowing children to explore their curiosity without someone saying anything is off limits. The kids know this.
Rogers said his favorite subject in school is science because he loves studying “how living things work,” but he wants to be more like Williams when he grows up.
“I want to be a star football player like Ricky,” Rogers said. “He is an example, showing you that you can do whatever you want and you can make it.”