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Palmetto players get life lesson

PALMETTO — Fresh off a district football championship, Palmetto High School attracted 106 to spring practice this year, the most in the memory of head football coach Raymond Woodie.

The turnout speaks to the success of a winning program. But Woodie wants his players to know there is more to life than blocking and tackling.

On Memorial Day, he and the coaching staff escorted more than 80 Palmetto players to a lesson in “caring and sharing.”

Dressed in their team jerseys, players visited residents of Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center, 926 Haben Blvd., flashing smiles and shaking hands.

Some of the residents called out, “Go Tigers,” or “Good luck this season.”

Among the residents who met the football team was a smiling Cheryl Lerch, sitting in a wheelchair and breathing oxygen through a clear tube.

“God bless you, thank you for coming,” Lerch said to Ty Scott, asking if he played quarterback.

“No, free safety,” Scott smiled.

After the last player had filed through her room, Lerch said, “I got to shake everyone’s hand. I would call that really good exercise.

“I think it’s remarkable these young men took their time and energy to come by and see us. It makes you proud on a day like today, when we honor our men and women who served, to see the future,” Lerch said.

The players said the residents also made an impression on them.

Brian Ackerman, a strong safety, said the visit reminded him not to take life or good health for granted.

“They smiled and waved, and it seemed like the visit really made a difference,” Ackerman said.

Brandon Tarpley, a kicker, said he was also touched by the visit.

“It meant a lot to me. My dad has cancer and is going to Moffit Cancer Center. It’s a battle every day. Life is not promised,” Tarpley said.

Kerchal Byrd, 16, said Monday was his first experience visiting a facility like Riviera Palms.

Byrd, a 3.8 grade-point average student, said the visit reemphasized to him the importance of doing his very best at everything he attempts. “Life is too short,” he said.

Woodie talked about the “positive energy” produced by the visit said the purpose was to illustrate the importance of serving others.

“This is important. The visit will be meaningful for them and the residents here,” Woodie said.

Connie Nixon, activities director at Riviera Palms, agreed.

“You never know if what they do here strikes a chord in these young men. We need advocates for the elderly,” Nixon said.

“It’s wonderful for my residents. Thank you on behalf of the residents and staff. You have no clue what spending an hour walking through and saying hello means to the residents. All week, they will remember those young men who came through.”

James A. Jones Jr., editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.