Cullowhee, N.C. – Touchdowns were scored and celebrated on Sunday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field, but the successful end zone trips weren’t made by members of the Western Carolina football team.
Instead, it was roughly 30 cognitively or physically impaired children enjoying the opportunity to play football or be a cheerleader as the Catamount football team hosted its first-ever Victory Day. Victory Day began in 2010 in Trenton High School, in Trenton, Mich. with head coach Aaron Segedi as an opportunity for children with cognitive and physical impairments to play football. Victory Day has since spread to multiple football programs across the country.
Victory Day came to WCU with Phillip Ely, who is in his first year as quarterbacks coach. Ely had taken part in Victory Day at Toledo as a player and then as an assistant coach at Iowa State.
“I first experienced Victory Day as a player at Toledo and I got goosebumps being a part of it,” Ely explained. “It’s amazing. I’ve met so many great people doing this that I wanted to bring it to Western Carolina and hope it’s something we can do for years to come.”
Participants were matched with a Western Carolina football player and went through a variety of simulated game-day activities including a pre-game public address introduction and running through the inflatable cat head, trying on shoulder pads and helmets, agility drills, and tackling drills. Each camper had the opportunity to score a touchdown and celebrate their score with the football team as well as the Purple Thunder drumline and members of the WCU dance team.
“The best part is the unknown,” Ely said of his favorite part about Victory Day. “You can put stuff on paper and plan how an event is going to go, but when the kids get out here, they do what they want to do. Some of them did dances, some did rap battles with the players...it was awesome. That’s the stuff that you can’t put on paper and describe the sensation that they get, the joy that they receive from an event like this and being around our players. Hopefully, in turn, our players see that joy and it gives them a different perspective on things.”
While Sunday may have been the first Victory Day at Western Carolina, Ely hopes that the experience can be the spark of some long-lasting friendships between campers and WCU football student-athletes.
“I’d love for the campers to stay in touch with our players,” Ely stated. “I want them to exchange numbers, wish each other good luck on things and develop a relationship. Hopefully next year it’s a familiar face because they’ve been talking to each other for a time. We want to see them at our games this fall and continue to be a part of our family.”
The Catamounts resume preseason camp on Monday with practice beginning at 9:45 am. All of WCU's preseason football practices are open to the public. It is respectfully requested, though, that spectators observe from the stadium seating area and avoid being either on the field or the sidelines for safety. Practice times are subject to change.
Both single-game and season tickets for all six home dates in 2019 are on sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center or by phone at (800)34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401. Fans can also purchase season tickets online by visiting CatamountSports.com. Tickets for the home and season-opener against Mercer – the “Purple Out” that includes postgame fireworks presented by Ingles and iHeartMedia partners 99.9 Kiss Country and Star 104.3 FM – are going fast!
2019 Catamount Football Preseason Practice Schedule:
Mon., Aug. 12 – Practice #9 – 9:45 – 11:45 am (shells)
Tues., Aug. 13 – Practice #10 – 9:45 – 11:45 am (full pads)
Wed., Aug. 14 – Practice #11 – 9:45 – 11:45 am (shells)
Thurs., Aug. 15 – Practice #12 – 9:45 – 11:45 am (full pads)
Fri., Aug. 16 – No Practice – WCU Freshman Move-In Day
Sat., Aug. 17 – Practice #13 (scrimmage) – 1:00 – 3:00 pm (full pads)
Sun., Aug. 18 – Practice #14 – 1:45 – 3:15 pm (shells)
Mon., Aug. 19 – No Practice – First Day of Classes
* Practice times are subject to change
Keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports) and Twitter (@catamounts, @CatamountsFB), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).
Additional Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Athletics / Catamount Football:
Fri., Aug. 16 – Western Carolina University Freshman Move-In Day
Mon., Aug. 19 – First day of classes for the fall semester
Fri., Aug. 30 – 15th Annual Bob Waters Memorial Golf Tournament at the Waynesville Inn – Golf Resort & Spa
Sat., Aug. 31 – 2019 Catamount Football season and home-opener vs. Mercer; Purple Out! Postgame fireworks presented by Ingles, and iHeartMedia partners, 99.9 FM Kiss Country and Star 104.3