Facebook Twitter

Gunnison football players making an impact in life, not on the field

SHARE Gunnison football players making an impact in life, not on the field

GUNNISON — Instead of the warm sunshine of California, Jantz Jensen will spend his senior trip cleaning up a town he'd never heard of until a tornado nearly obliterated it a week ago.

The decision to give up relaxing on beaches for membership on a clean-up crew came Wednesday night, when he and his Gunnison High football teammates gathered for the annual "Meet the Team Fundraiser."

This year they hoped to raise enough money to build restrooms at the school's field.

That plan, however, quickly went in a different direction when one set of football parents asked the coach to make a special announcement during the banquet.

Dr. Cary Judy and his wife Melissa asked head coach Yori Ludvigson to ask those in attendance to consider giving a little money to the residents of Joplin, Missouri.

That request started a chain of events that no one anticipated, least of all Ludvigson. The Manti High graduate returned to Sanpete County last year to take over the struggling football program. He didn't talk about winning games as much as he talked about teaching his boys "to change the world."

Some people laughed at what might have seemed like hyperbole at the time.

"I put a big map of the world on my wall," said Ludvigson. "I just want to keep track of where they go and what they do. But really it starts in Gunnsion. I wanted them to be more impactful in the community; help people out, be better examples."

Some coaches will rattle off stats and the athletic accomplishments of their players, and while Ludvigson could do that, he'd rather give you a list of ways in which his boys have already "changed the world."

"Football is a big deal here, and right now their world is Gunnson," he said. "But they'll grow up, go to college and move away; and wherever they go, I want them to change the world for the better. We just want them to be stellar people."

Three members of the team got that chance in a very tangible way when the Judys told Ludvigson what they had planned.

"(Melissa Judy) really got all this started," said Ludvigson. "She's one of those people, always helping out in some way."

The Judys know first-hand the terror of living through a tornado. The couple lived in Joplin, Missouri, when Cary Judy was a medical resident.

"They lived there for two years and their home was destroyed by a tornado,' Ludvigson said.

So they asked the coach if he'd announce that they were going to Joplin Sunday and see if anyone might have some money they could spare. They have friends who still live in the area, and they said people are desperate for help, specifically, help cleaning up the debris and cash.

And while there are fantastic relief organizations, like the Red Cross, the Judys wanted to give hands-on help to the people who'd loved them when they were just starting out in the world.

Ludvigson said he was moved by their plan and not only asked the crowd to chip in, but also, with the permission of this year's captains, donated what they'd raised to build the restrooms.

"As much as we want those restrooms," said Ludvigson, "This was kind of a no-brainer."

Jensen, an all-state player, offered the money he'd received for graduation, but said he wanted to go with the Judys. Junior Rylan Anderson and sophomore Preston Judy also said they'd pay their own way for the chance to help. The Judys agreed to take the boys as clean up and manpower is what residents need most.

Melissa also mentioned her trip at a faculty lunch earlier in the week, which moved two of Gunnison High's English teachers.

Because the small group couldn't take much in the way of supplies on the plane, JoLyn Chappell and Arti Olsen will act as their delivery service. They spent several days soliciting donations from neighbors and local businesses, and received more than expected.

"My front room is full right now," said Chappell laughing. Instead of taking her van full of supplies, as they'd originally planned, she and Olsen will drive her pick-up truck and a house trailer stuffed with bedding, clothing, games and cleaning supplies to Joplin where they will meet up with Melissa.

The small group from Gunnison will spend about a week helping residents in whatever way they can. Because the Judys have a personal connection to the residents, they will continue to take donations through the high school and wire the money to people in the community who are leading the effort to clean up and help residents, Ludvigson said. (Donations can be sent to Gunnison High, P.O. Box 460, Gunnison, Utah, 84634)

"It just turned into a really neat deal," said Ludvigson, who praised the residents of Sanpete County who rallied around the team and their efforts. "It's amazing how fast an effort can grow. It reminds me of what life is about, or what we hope it's about."

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com, Twitter: adonsports