NORMAN — James Fraschilla remembers what it was like when he was growing up. Any time he got to meet athletes he looked up to, it left a strong impression on the Dallas native.
Now as a member of the of the Oklahoma men’s basketball team, he has the same opportunity to leave an imprint on a young child’s life. He may have done just that Thursday when close to 50 OU athletes visited Jefferson Elementary as part of the Sooner Jr. Program.
“It’s real important,” Fraschilla said. “When I was growing up, if kids older than me, college athletes, came and talk to us, I would be really excited. And for us to be able to come back and be role models to kids who look up to us, it’s a good opportunity for us.”
Athletes and coaches from OU volleyball, baseball, football, rowing and men’s basketball talked to more than 400 children and parents on a variety of different subjects for two hours. The topics included sportsmanship, nutrition, academics, fun and fitness.
“This is the second time that I’ve been able to speak at a Sooner Jr. event, and I know that the kids really appreciate our involvement with them because they really look up to college athletes, especially within their community,” Rachel Cantrell said.
Cantrell, a Bixby native, is part of the rowing team at Oklahoma. To be able to use the Sooner brand to educate and entertain kids has been a highlight for the sophomore.
“They have a lot of questions,” Cantrell said, “especially the kids who are getting involved with sports. They can really apply that to their lives at this point. I really like being able to come and speak to them. It’s just really awesome to see them get involved and to bring their friends and to be able to interact to what we are talking about.”
While most fans only see the Sooners when they are competing, the athletes often make trips to schools and hospitals without seeking any recognition. The trip to Jefferson was unique in that it brought together so many athletes from different sports in one place.
“It all started when we had the OU athletes out for the Ford Foundation health Outreach,” Jefferson Principal Kathy Taber said. “Our kids were so excited that we wanted to grow it. Now it’s grown and it’s amazing. I would never dream we would have this many. We signed in over 450 people.
“I first aimed for 200 and hoped we would have that. This is an amazing response from our families. OU has a big part to do with it.”
The list of Sooners in attendance included well-known athletes to others who are just starting to make a name for themselves in their respective sports. But regardless of their popularity, they all had similar messages for children.
“Just that they really can do what they want when they grow up,” Fraschilla said. “If they want to be an athlete, they can be an athlete. And if they want to be a doctor, they can be a doctor. You just have to stay on the right path, stay in school, keep studying and don’t stop chasing your passions and your dreams.”