Chapel Hill- Cricket Lane asked Leigh Williams’s fifth-grade class, “What makes you TOPPS?”
Lane is the assistant athletic director for student-athlete development at UNC Chapel Hill and part of a pilot program between the university and Northside Elementary that brings student athletes into the classroom to mentor students.
Lane said that TOPPS – traits, opportunities, passions, praise and skills – allow the student to take personal inventories of themselves allowing them to come up with ways to be their best.
Along with Shelley Johnson, director of UNC’s Richard A. Baddox Carolina Leadership Academy, Lane and four student athletes help the elementary students work on leadership skills that will help them throughout their lives.
UNC football players Jarrod James and Alex Bales along with Lauren Colberg of the rowing team and track and field athlete Ryan Walling serve as mentors.
The athletes work with the students on the activities guided by Lane and Johnson but they also get a chance to connect with the students and show them what’s behind the person they see on television.
“I like it a lot,” Colberg said of mentoring. “I like interacting with the kids and giving back to the community.”
In between their visits, the athletes send inspirational quotes to Williams to share with the class and check on them to see how they’re doing.
“It’s been a really good character-builder for them and they enjoy talking to college students,” Williams said.
The group visits the school once a month for three days, one day with each of the fifth-grade classes. Last month the students were challenged to make structures out of spaghetti and marshmallows with their mentors.
This month Lane talked to the students about the Golden Buddha and the importance of finding the good inside themselves and showing it to the world.
Johnson said that the program teaches the students good “habitudes,” or habits and attitudes, that will guide them through life.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s always great to get out into the community. With the close proximity of Northside to the university, it’s great for us to come over on our lunch break and give back.
“We’re doing our best to make sure we’re impacting these students and by all accounts it seems to be very well received,” said Johnson.
School counselor Virginia Fox said that this is just one way Northside is preparing its students to transition to middle school.
“Through this program, our students will get to see that being an athlete requires much more than just skills on the field or on the court,” she said. “These athletes are students first and their character is just as important as their athletic ability.
“We as educators can tell them every day how important character is but I think having these student-athletes, whom they admire so much, tell them will make a huge impact.”
When Johson announced that the mentors would visit just one more time, there was a collective sigh of disappointment among the students. Josh Singleton was among them.
“I love it,” Singleton said of the program. “I like talking about all the things we talk about. I like the mentors, they’re kind.”