Notre Dame players do the math and have fun doing so during Shop with a Player event

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

MISHAWAKA

Who says you’ll never use math in the real world?

Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams was pushing a shopping cart through the toy aisles at the Meijer store on Grape Road on Sunday during the Kelly Cares Foundation’s seventh-annual Shop with a Player event, when math sure came in handy.

The area youth Williams was paired with had a sudden epiphany after a long bout of indecisiveness.

“How about an iPhone?” she posed.

There was a happy ending without one Sunday — actually many of them — as 108 elementary and middle school kids from the Clay International Academy, Darden Elementary and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians each received a $100 Meijer gift card to spend in any way they wanted, and each had an Irish football player to help them through the process.

That, after the kids got to have lunch with the players at Papa Vino’s Italian Kitchen and Chili’s Grill.

“I’ll tell you what I learn about my players more than anything else,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said, “is that they really enjoy these 2-3 hours where there’s no scrutiny on what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.

“They’re not having to get an ‘A’ in a class. They can just relax and have fun. I think they get more out of it than the kids. I really do.”

And some of the biggest smiles were on the faces of players long ago deemed out for the season because of injury — cornerback Shaun Crawford, offensive guard Alex Bars and defensive lineman Jamion Franklin, among them.

Kelly’s third-ranked Irish (12-0), a couple of days removed from the end of final exam week, are prepping for a Dec. 29 date in the College Football Playoff semifinals with No. 2 Clemson (13-0) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Kelly Cares Foundation was founded 10 years ago by Kelly and wife Paqui, the latter a two-time breast cancer survivor. The genesis of the foundation centered on breast cancer awareness, but its scope grew and spread in all kinds of different directions.

Including the Shop with a Player event, a partnership with George Heeter of the ND Security Police and local law enforcement.

Observing the different shopping styles Sunday was amusing. Wide receiver Miles Boykin and running back Tony Jones Jr. were among those who zipped through the aisles, making pertinent suggestions, and got to the cash registers in less than 20 minutes.

Freshman offensive lineman Luke Jones somehow ended up pushing 6-foot-6 sophomore offensive guard Aaron Banks in a cart while their kids picked out items.

“Well at least we now know those carts can hold 325 pounds without the wheels coming off,” Kelly said with a laugh.

Offensive guard Tommy Kraemer was one of the few who didn’t hesitate when he was asked to peruse the Barbie aisle. The Ademilola twins, Jayson and Justin, ended up with twin kids but very different tastes.

“The only problem with our players is they don’t know how to keep it at $100,” Kelly said with a smile. “Last year (safety) Devin Studstill had $250 in his cart, so there was a lot of subtraction at the cash register.”

There’s that math again.

And here’s more math: Since its inception, the Kelly Cares Foundation has distributed more than $4.6 million to local causes.

“With our partnerships, it has enabled us to do some grants with some local teachers,” said Paqui Kelly, a former teacher herself. “Some of them are here today. They were nominated, and we provided grants for whatever they need in the classroom. Those grants go across basically every school district in the area.”

And the 10th anniversary run of the foundation continues on with plenty of momentum, including reaching the $1 million threshold in funds raised over the years from its Football 101 event alone.

“We really have a great staff and we have great partners, and this is a pretty giving community,” Paqui Kelly said. “People continue to reach out to us and say, ‘How can we help?’ ”

“We’re not a research foundation,” Brian Kelly added, “so people can see where the money is going, and it’s going to a lot of different types of organizations. You look at our website, and it literally goes from A to Z, because we’re health, community and education. That cuts across a fairly large group of people we can assist immediately.

“So that’s why we continue to grow, because we can hit everything from the YMCA to St. Joe Medical, to Harper Cancer Research to Christmas shopping. We’ve branched out in so many areas, there are always new causes and always new energy to go with it.”

Notre Dame offensive lineman Robert Hainsey (72) looks for toys with Jaxon Villanueva, 5, during the Shop with a Player event, Sunday afternoon at Meijer on Grape Road.
Notre Dame football players shop with area children during the Shop with a Player event Sunday afternoon at Meijer on Grape Road.
Alanna Singh, 12, shops with Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams (2) during the Shop with a Player event Sunday afternoon at Meijer on Grape Road.