Iron Horses put 'service over self' with football philantropy project

High school football involves X’s and O’s, conditioning, time in the film room and last but not least, Friday night lights.

It might also include a potato or two if you are a member of the Philip Simmons High School football team. Well, maybe it’s more like 15,000 pounds of potatoes, but who is counting?

Eric Bendig promised that his team would be involved in more than just football when he was named the first varsity head football coach at the new school. His platform included “service over self.” And that’s why the Iron Horse players won’t mind if they don’t see another sweet potato for a long time. Well, at least until the next training table.

Bendig, assistant Todd Chastain and about 15 players spent a recent Saturday at the Lowcountry Food Bank, and sweet potatoes were on the agenda. The potatoes arrived in a bulk load and the players had to distribute them in 5-pound bags. That took three hours and by the time their shift ended, the players were seeing spuds in their sleep.

Bendig found out about the food bank service project from a friend at his church. It wasn’t food the organization needed, it was manpower.

“It made perfect sense,” Bendig said. “We have some kids who can lift heavy loads. All they needed was some manual labor.”

Bendig admitted that it was tough to drum up interest among his players, teenagers who have a habit of sleeping in on Saturday mornings. But the word got around the school, the spirit became contagious and the group reached the maximum limit.

“The reason why we are limited to 15 players at a time is because there are groups from other organizations that take part in volunteering,” Bendig said. “I did it by myself at first and later I wanted the players to grow as I grew. We wanted them to do something they wouldn’t necessarily do on their own.

“It’s something that is not required,” Bendig added. “It’s something you have to want to do. We’re getting to the point everyone wants to sign up.”

That service over self Bendig stressed can also include informal events. Bendig heard that a 7-year-old loved football and wanted some of the Iron Horse players at his birthday party. The players showed up, sang happy birthday and even played a game of touch football in the backyard.

The football team will hold a food drive at the school in May, but that’s not the only thing on the calendar. The Iron Horses begin spring ball on May 6 and conclude with the Purple and White Spring Game, which will be free to the public.

The Iron Horses were 2-8 overall and 1-4 in Region 6-AA play in their first season of varsity ball. The team had approximately 45 players on the roster for the 2018 season and all of them will be eligible to return. The 2018 season was one of firsts for the Iron Horses, but the upcoming season will check off another milestone – as the team will have its first senior class.

Daniel Island Publishing

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