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Football players lead first districtwide camp for LIFE Skills students

Cypress Falls HS football players cheer a Cy Woods student at Camp Courage.
Cypress Falls High School football players Isaiah Singleton (11) and Jakob Leavatts (8) lead a drill station at Camp Courage with Cypress Woods High School student Scott Bailey on May 17 at Cypress Falls. More than 80 football players and 40 campers participated.

May 19, 2022—More than 80 CFISD football players from all 12 high schools came together on May 17 to lead the first-ever districtwide skills camp—Camp Courage—for middle school and high school students enrolled in LIFE Skills classes.

The camp began as a campuswide effort at Cypress Falls High School in 2019, when Head Coach Chris Brister borrowed an idea from colleague Chris Massey in Deer Park. Golden Eagle football players led drills for a group of about 15 students enrolled in the LIFE Skills program, which assists students with special needs in learning functional communication and academic skills.

Following a two-year camp hiatus due to the pandemic, Coach Brister suggested to Ray Zepeda, CFISD director of athletics, that all campuses join the effort in 2022.

a Bridgeland HS football player encourages a BHS life skills student at Camp Courage.
Bridgeland High School football player Aidan Hall assists senior student Zachary Portzline as he participates in a drill at Camp Courage on May 17. (Photo by Maria Colmenares, Cypress Falls HS)

“He loved the idea of running it as one big CFISD event, and I’m glad we did, because it made the whole thing better,” Brister said.

The other 11 high school football programs dispatched seven players each to escort and encourage the students traveling between drill stations facilitated by Golden Eagle athletes. Campus athletic trainers provided extra water bottles, and parents attended for additional supervision.

Cy Falls football players celebrate as a Langham Creek HS student hits a tackling dummy.
Cypress Falls football players react as Langham Creek High School freshman student Raymond Higuera knocks down a tackling dummy held by Jersey Village football player Rashon Estes at Camp Courage on May 17. (Photo by Maria Colmenares, Cypress Falls HS)

To encourage participation, middle school and high school LIFE Skills coordinators reached out to potentially interested students and distributed registration forms. Approximately 80 students initially signed up, and about 40 attended on May 17.

“That allowed us to double up with the chaperones and led to more positive interactions,” Brister said. “The effort our athletes put in was awesome. The best part about was seeing all the football players who try to compete against each other in the fall working side-by-side for a greater cause.”

Jersey Village HS football player Malik Slone with Cy Falls student Haley Hayes.
Jersey Village High School sophomore football player Malik Slone enjoyed working with Cypress Falls junior Haley Hayes at Camp Courage on May 17.

Malik Slone, a sophomore defensive end for Jersey Village High School, had a positive experience working at Camp Courage. He made a connection with Cypress Falls student Haley Hayes, one of the first campers to arrive early to the event.

“Haley is a very kind and generous person who wasn’t confident at first, but I feel like I helped her create a bigger persona for herself,” Slone said. “Now she’s in a mindset where she can do what she wants to—throw a football, make a tackle, whatever. Camp Courage wasn’t about ourselves, it was about helping others who couldn’t do things we can do. It was about what I learned and what I can do to keep up that experience. I would be the first to volunteer if we did it again.”

Langham Creek HS sophomore Miles Burrell participates in a tackling drill as CFISD football players look on at Camp Courage.
Cypress Springs and Cypress Falls football players look on as Camp Courage participant Miles Burrell, Langham Creek sophomore, drives through a tackling dummy during Camp Courage on May 17. (Photo by Maria Colmenares, Cypress Falls HS)

Zepeda hopes to see the camp continue to grow in future years.

“Camp Courage is a great example of what makes CFISD and the CFISD community such a special place. We are fortunate to have so many athletes and kids that care for one another,” he said. “I appreciate the leadership of Cy Falls Campus Athletic Coordinator Chris Brister in organizing and spearheading this tremendous community service event. I also am so appreciative of the many athletes and coaches that came out to support and provide a great event for many of our students with special needs. It was evident after just a short time that all kids who participated benefited from working together and having fun collectively as a group of CFISD students.”

Cypress Ridge and Cypress Ranch football players oversee a passing drill at Camp Courage.
Cypress Ridge High School student Derrick Shinette (20) and Cypress Ranch High School student Jason Dennis (72) oversee a camper performing a passing drill during Camp Courage. (Photo by Maria Colmenares, Cypress Falls HS)

Cypress Park High School football players support their fellow classmate, junior Christopher Ramos, at Camp Courage.
Cypress Park High School football players support their fellow classmate, junior Christopher Ramos, at Camp Courage.