As it turns out, the best way to get results from athletes is to create competition.
That’s what Penn sprint football coach Jerry McConnell did in order to raise money for a great cause: cerebral palsy research. On Sunday March 21, his football team took part in a Walk-A-Thon for the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania to benefit funding for this research.
McConnell divided his team into three cohorts and challenged them to raise a combined $2,500. Potentially motivated in part by competing with their teammates, the cohorts managed to raise $4,500, easily surpassing their goal.
“Most guys on the team are super competitive, so competition psychologically promotes working together and doing the best you can,” sophomore Travis Legum said.
The cohorts — donning the names "Savages," "Goodfellows," and "Trench Mob" — originate from when the team was limited in the number of players that could workout and practice together.
“All the groups raised about the same amount, so we all did a great job," Legum added.
The team walked a three-mile loop around campus midday Sunday. On a day that featured warmer weather, McConnell's expectations were blown out of the water as he completed the walk alongside his family as well.
"I thought the walk was excellent," McConnell said. "You couldn’t ask for any more from them, to give up a Sunday and walk for the cause was great."
The team knew they wanted to do something associated with CHOP, and the team chose the idea of cerebral palsy research because McConnell’s grandson Isaiah has the condition. The same idea will be taken up by the Lafayette women’s lacrosse team, who is coached by McConnell’s daughter, Katie.
Giving back to the community falls right in line with sprint football’s recent actions. In the fall, the team sold masks in order to raise money for frontline workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and in December the team held a toy drive and delivered the gifts to a visitation school.
“Each event we’ve done has been really successful, and as a team we enjoy giving back to the community at Penn,” Legum said.
For the mask drive, the players were split up into four groups. This time, with three groups, the players turned to posting on Instagram stories and reaching out to friends and family members for donations.
Legum emphasized that the importance of these events is that they benefit the community but also bring the team together. McConnell expressed similar sentiments, adding events like these build the chemistry of the team. This unity has become ever-important to maintain as sprint football had its fall season canceled due to COVID-19.
McConnell says his team has talked about how he wants his team to be the best it can in the classroom, the field, and the community. These are ideals embodied in the Wagner Cup, a year-long and team-wide competition the players participate in.
The Wagner Cup, named after longtime coach Bill Wagner, is used to reward excellence both on and off the field. It is based on a points system, and gives McConnell a way to incorporate fundraisers like the Walk-A-Thon into the team’s other activities.
Ultimately, a charitable event does not have any losers. But by implementing friendly competition, whether it be in workouts, for fundraisers, or throughout the season with the Wagner Cup, effort is maximized.
Sprint football, deprived of on-field competition for far too long, won on Sunday — for themselves and for many impacted by cerebral palsy.
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