Bison Buddies is a student run program that brings athletes into Searcy elementary classrooms from pre-kindergarten to third grade throughout the year. Last semester one hundred and eleven student athletes go into five different Searcy elementary schools representing 14 different Harding University teams. Depending on the age and class demands, they go to the schools once or twice a week to play games, do homework, make crafts and build lasting relationships with the kids.
Junior wide receiver Kohl Blickenstaff and junior defensive back Jon Aaron Howell have been involved in Bison Buddies for three years now.
“It’s so big to those kids to see men that are successful and doing the right thing,” Blickenstaff said. “It’s beneficial to the kids and to us as well.”
When it started in 2009 only football players volunteered at Harding Academy, but this past year, they partnered with sophomore outfielder Jack Thomas, the president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. Now athletes from every team at Harding participate in Bison Buddies.
“I think God did us a favor when he told us to be like little children,” Thomas said. “They’re genuine, they think purely, and they simply just have more fun.It doesn’t matter whether you’re a third grader or whether you’re a college student, there’s always something to be learned from the people you interact with. Sometimes the biggest lessons can be learned from the smallest voices. It’s been a very eye opening experience.”
In the fall of 2015, Bison Buddies saw a need for mentors in Searcy’s public elementary schools. Bison Buddies branched out to partner with Westside, Sidney Deener, McRae and Kensett teachers. The goal was to put at least one athlete in every classroom.
“They come home and talk about you to their parents. They want to wear Bison jerseys or wear their shoes a certain way or socks a certain way. It’s cool to be able to make a difference just by hanging out with them,” Howell said.
Bison Buddies has spent eight years so far serving Searcy’s youth in the classroom. The athletes involved look forward to expanding the program in efforts to positively impact all elementary students in Searcy.
“This is our way as athletes to embody the community of mission,” Thomas said. “It’s our way to enhance their educational experience but also to share the love of Jesus Christ in the public schools in the Searcy community.”