Ardrey Kell High School senior and safety Eddie Petzke remembers watching his older brother play football at Ardrey Kell years ago.
First as a student at Hawk Ridge Elementary School and then on to Community House Middle School, Eddie always dreamed of being a Knight one day, participating in the traditional Knight Walk from the locker room to the stadium.
So it sparked an interest with him last year when Ardrey Kell football head coach Adam Hastings introduced a new program to the varsity team called Future Knights, a mentorship program between the veteran players and elementary students who live in the Ardrey Kell attendance zone.
“When I was younger, my brother played here. I looked up to these guys. I know how (the elementary kids) feel because I always wanted to be with the older guys,” Eddie said.
Hastings started the Future Knights program as a way to create more community and continuity between area schools and the students. Elementary students get a chance to attend two Ardrey Kell varsity football practices, as well as participate in the Knight Walk leading up to a Friday night game. This year, the Future Knights marched with the team before the game against Providence High School.
Hastings said the program gives his players an opportunity to give back to the community that supports them so well during the season. In addition, the program gives the team the chance to really see they are role models in the community.
“We want Ardrey Kell to be a community school. We want the young kids to have positive role models and one day say ‘I want to be an Ardrey Kell Knight,’” Hastings said. “This gives our older guys the opportunity to give back, mentor and see what they really do is important – show them how many eyes are definitely on them and teaches them what it means to have a positive impact.”
Hastings said the team mentored about 45 to 50 elementary students this season, so his team of 65 players was really able to give the kids quality one-on-one time. He was impressed last season to see how his team responded to the program and this year, it was something they really looked forward to, he said.
The first time kids attended the practice at Ardrey Kell, Hastings was surprised when after practice ended, his team spent another hour mentoring and working with the kids.
“We had to tell them to go home,” Hastings laughed. “I think they understand that football is more than a game and it is a great vehicle to grow as a man, a team and a way for the team to really give back.”
Hastings said the program has had overwhelming support from principal David Switzer, athletic director Cheryl Feeney and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education at-large member Tim Morgan. A member of the Ballantyne community himself, Hastings said the program has really added to the area’s sense of community and now, the kids and their families can be found at games on Friday nights supporting the Ardrey Kell team.
For Eddie, that sense of community is what keeps him coming back after rough games and practices, he said.
“I might have a hard practice, but the kids are always excited to see me. It’s great,” Eddie said. “We have packed stands every game and this just makes the community a better place to be.”
The Future Knights program also is spreading to other athletic programs at the school, including basketball starting this Saturday, Nov. 2. The school will host a free basketball clinic at the school for kids in kindergarten to eighth grade running from noon to 1:30 p.m. Students will have a chance to meet the members of the Ardrey Kell basketball teams, learn fundamentals of basketball, play games with players and coaches and have an opportunity to sign up for Future BKB Knights and Future Lady BKB Knights.
Ardrey Kell High School is located at 10220 Ardrey Kell Road.