Ram Buddies students take part in Spring-Ford football practice

Spring-Ford football player Brandon Barone, in red, celebrates a touchdown in practice with Ram Buddies student Joseph Santoro. The Ram Buddies program students practiced with the Spring-Ford football team last week. Photo by Frank Otto

LIMERICK — Students in Spring-Ford Area High School’s Ram Buddies program couldn’t wait for one thing Thursday.

“All afternoon, it’s been nothing but, ‘Football practice!’ and ‘What time is it starting?’” said Mandy Leslie, the special education teacher who serves as the coordinator for Ram Buddies. “They’ve been really excited.”

Thursday, Spring-Ford Area High School’s football team opened one of its spring practices to the Ram Buddies students.

It was the last day of spring practice for the Rams, Coach Chad Brubaker said.

“It’s a nice way to finish it off,” Brubaker said. “The great thing about it is the kids aren’t going to realize how much fun they’re going to have until afterwards, when they see the appreciation on the (other) kids’ faces.”

Ram Buddies is a peer-mentoring program at the high school open to students with disabilities, Leslie said.

Continuing in the theme of peer-mentoring, the Rams football players did drills with the students from Ram Buddies. The players taught the Ram Buddies students different skills used in the game and cheered them on as they tried out passing and tackling.

“I just like being outside with a whole bunch of people and having fun,” said Brandon Leacraft, a quarterback with the Rams. “This is just giving back to the community and the school, just having a good time.”

“It’s a great experience helping out everybody, just having fun,” said Rams lineman Zach Dorsey, who was soaking in the last day of football practice.

Brubaker cycled through the practice, giving direction and encouragement to the visitors to the practice.

“I think it’s really important for our football players to give back,” Brubaker said. “In the past we’ve had them coach at our youth clinics. (We’re) just trying to give them another way to see what they have and how important it is to give back to others.”

The excitement was evident in many of the Ram Buddies students.

Taylor Fraschetta clapped Dorsey on the shoulder just before the practice started, greeting him. She said she was excited to try out some passing.

As the Rams held a team meeting at the middle of the field, Joseph Santoro pitched his feet on the sideline.

“Are you ready?” he asked one of his fellow Ram Buddy students. “Are you ready to catch some footballs?”

Santoro later hooked on with a group of Rams doing drills with a tackling dummy. When he finished there, he ran with a football through a line of Ram blockers and trucked through a player at the end.

“Come on,” he said. “I want it again.”

“He wants it again,” said Rams wide reciever and defensive back Brandon Barone. “Joey’s hungry.”

“Quite a few of the sports teams have opened their practices to us, which has been really wonderful,” Leslie said. “They’ll invite us to a practice and the players are awesome. They just welcome our guys right into the group and they feel like part of the team.”

Some of the Ram Buddies students got to try on practice jerseys, helmets and pads.

“82, you’re looking good,” one football player said to the Ram Buddy student he pulled a jersey over.

Later in the day, the official Spring-Ford Rams football Twitter account tweeted that the Ram Buddies set a new record for consecutive touchdowns at a practice.

They were well prepared for so many touchdowns, because the Rams players taught them a few touchdown celebrations.

“It makes me glad to be a teacher, to see the positive interactions, just the kids goofing off. It’s a great thing,” Leslie said. “Their self-esteem skyrockets for something like this.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.