SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- A noisy wave of black and gold jerseys and camouflage uniforms washed through the normally quiet hallways of the University Hospital here Tuesday, as more than 30 Army All-American football players and a handful of Soldier mentors took a break from football to bring smiles to the faces of a few sick and injured children.
The group made the special trip during their visit to the area for the 17th annual Army All-American Bowl. The event is the nation's premier high school All-American game, featuring the best 90 players from around the country competing against one another in an East vs. West game at the Alamodome. Players arrived early to practice and participate in community outreach engagements, partnering with Soldier mentors throughout the week.
"I think it's great to have an opportunity to give back to the community like this," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Crespo, a recruiter and athlete mentor from Army Recruiting Command. "These kids have been through a lot, and it's good that we can be here to show them that we care about them and that they are not forgotten."
After arriving at the Children's Health Department, the group broke into smaller teams and were introduced to some of the young patients. Some of the athletes took the opportunity to pass out their personalized signed football cards to the kids, while others simply sat and chatted with the children, exchanging stories and smiles.
"This is absolutely wonderful," said Scarlet Williams, the mother of 15-year-old Jalen Williams, who recently sustained a traumatic leg injury. "This gives these kids a chance to see and meet some athletes who have achieved a place in life where they want to be in a few years. It gives them something to look forward to."
Many of the athletes and their Soldier mentors also took photos with several of the kids. Everyone who participated in the event appeared to enjoy themselves, especially the children.
"I really appreciate this," said 20-year-old Brian McGraw, a patient who spent time with the group of all-stars. "This opportunity really helps me distance myself from the pain I'm going through."
Although the All-American Bowl has been held here for the past 16 years, not everyone has watched a game. McGraw is among those ranks, but not for much longer. "I wasn't planning on watching the game before today," he said. "But I will definitely be watching it now."
The 2017 U.S. Army All-American Bowl will be televised live on NBC from the Alamodome Saturday, Jan. 7, at 1 p.m. EST. The Army All-American Marching Band will perform at halftime.