UVA Football’s ‘Thursday’s Heroes’ program honored by ACC
On Tuesday, the program was honored with the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Game Changers Award for the 2019-2020 academic year.
“The impact being made by the Virginia football program through Thursday’s Heroes is inspiring and commendable,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “Watching our institutions give back so profoundly to their communities is especially fulfilling and truly demonstrates the exceptional leadership qualities of our student-athletes.”
“Thursday’s Heroes” reaches out to individuals who are undergoing a difficult circumstance and makes them feel a part of the Virginia football family.
The program is based on a program that UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall and his wife, Holly, spearheaded at Brigham Young University.
“The trophies and the wins and all that – yeah, they’re necessary for job security, and the world makes a big deal of that,” Bronco Mendenhall said. “But it’s hollow without the substance. Relationships are everything. Other than that, it would just be a game, and that doesn’t sound quite meaningful enough to me.”
Each Thursday, a Hero and their family is invited to tour the Cavalier football facilities, watch practice and meet players and coaches. Virginia players take turns showering their Hero with gifts, which may include UVA gear, a signed football, Beats by Dre, a bicycle, school supplies, Halloween costumes, and special video messages from favorite celebrities (Peyton Manning, Kenny Chesney, Odell Beckham Jr. and Hugh Jackman are among past participants).
Players have been known to dress in costume to become the Hero’s favorite character – Captain America, Mr. Incredible, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and even Santa Claus. The goal: to put a smile on each Hero’s face.
“As a student-athlete, I feel as though so much of our life is devoted to academics and sports, but our Thursday’s Heroes program has shown me that there is so much more to life than just football and school, (that) there are many people out there fighting battles much bigger than mine,” UVA senior linebacker Reed Kellam said. “Thursday’s Heroes is the best tradition of the UVA football program, and it has changed my life.”
The program started at UVA in the fall of 2016. The initial step involved partnering with Charlottesville community members and hospitals around the state of Virginia. The football team also worked with K-12 schools and teachers to receive Hero nominations.
In order to provide the best experience, football staff are in contact early on with parents/guardians to determine the Hero’s “favorites,” with the goal of making the program’s gifts and presentations unique. Each Hero also signs a flag that represents the team’s core values and beliefs, receives tickets to a home football game and is recognized via a JumboTron video and on-field presentation. Mendenhall and the coaching staff extend a standing invitation for the Hero to visit with the Cavaliers’ football team.
Players and coaches from other UVA athletic teams often join the football program in celebrating and gifting Thursday’s Heroes.
“Everything (they) do is touching and changing somebody’s life,” said Michelle Wright, the mother of a Thursday’s Hero. “It could be big or small, but it’s a difference – a positive difference.”
Information from Virginia Athletics