Friday, August 20, 2010

SPORTS>>Wildcats on mission to help out

Leader sportswriter

The Harding Academy Wildcats are on a mission this season to repeat as 2-3A Conference champions.

But their mission in late July, just before the start of practice, was part of a higher calling.

The Wildcats traveled to Mobile, Ala., as part of a mission trip to work with inner-city kids and local churches. They held a peewee football camp for the younger kids in the area and helped with fundraisers, as well as ministered to people in the area by going door to door.

“It gives you a deeper appreciation for where you live, and the blessings that God gives you,” said Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote, now entering his fifth season overalland third as head coach of the Wildcats. “No matter what your economic status is, we all need a savior.”

In an era where the intentions of some faith-based private schools seem questionable at times, Harding Academy is an example of fellowship and outreach in all of its school programs, including its athletic department.

“We were sharing our faith,” Mote said. “And sharing the word of Jesus through the game that we play.”

The Wildcats raised funds to help the local children with clothing needs, and also raised money for a church. The average income of the church members is less than $8,000 per year, and it has an annual tithe intake of only $15,000.

The local school requires students to wear uniforms, and the money raised by the Wildcats went toward supplying children with the proper attire for the start of the school year. Mote said the trip not only raised civic and religious awareness in the neighborhood in Mobile, but also among his own players.

“There were some comments,” Mote said. “You heard guys saying, ‘I need to do this more often.’ ”

Since returning to Searcy, the Wildcats have been hard at work on their competitive mission.

“I think things have been progressing well,” Mote said. Our kids have been focused and continue to work hard. We’ve had a great preseason camp.

“I think we’re like most people toward the end of preseason, just ready to hit on somebody besides ourselves.”

The Wildcats will get their first opportunity to hit someone else when nearby Beebe visits First Security Stadium on Tuesday night for a scrimmage game.

That will lead Harding Academy into the start of the regular season against a very familiar opponent, Fountain Lake, which ended a dream season for the Wildcats last year with a one-sided victory in the 3A state semifinals.

The non-conference schedule will not get any easier from there with 4A powerhouse Heber Springs on tap for Week 2, and another familiar opponent, Des Arc, in Week 3. The Wildcats and Eagles had a spirited rivalry in the days of the former 6AA

Conference — a rivalry that even hinted at bitterness between the two programs from time to time.

“I think we’ll get an early check of how good we are,” Mote said. “Our non-conference schedule is real good. We’re excited to get the season started. The expectations around here are to make the playoffs.”