The Seneca Valley High School football team has a reputation for doing great things —winning 12 state championships, the most state championships in the history of the state of Maryland. And as most football players know, it is doing the little things right that leads to greatness. For some Seneca Valley athletes, the little things include good footwork, being early for practice, off-season workouts, and reading to a class of kindergartners. It is that last one that sets members of the ACE Project apart from other athletes.
Last week a few players on the team visited Capt. James E. Daly Elementary School in Germantown to read to two classes of delighted kindergarten children. But it’s all in a day’s work for students who take part in The ACE Project.
Started by Screaming Eagles assistant football Coach Ali Hashemzadeh last year, The ACE Project stands for Athletes for Community Excellence. It is a grassroots organization centered in Germantown with a desire to better the community with the help of students and student-athletes.
It came to be when Hashemzadeh saw how easy it was for students to stray from the good path and use their time unwisely and in the midst of dangerous situations.
“I started The ACE Project because all too often we are faced with the negatives, especially as of late, within our Germantown community,” said Hashemzadeh. “Between the ongoing news of violence and drugs in our community, it is, unfortunately, real easy for our local youth to take the wrong turn. I am hoping The ACE Project can provide and instill some civic responsibility, maturity, accountability, and teach them to be respectful citizens in the community.”
As a Seneca Valley graduate, Hashemzadeh wanted to focus the efforts in the community he grew up. The ACE Project has tackled community events and has strived to help everyone they can. Last weekend, students were volunteering at the Roberto Clemente Middle School 5k Run, they sat in a town hall meeting about Germantown Youth and Violence, the group volunteered their muscle at beautification projects at Clopper Mille Elementary School, and even read to kindergarten classes at Daly Elementary School.
“The students loved it,” said Daly Principal Nora Dietz. “They were such good role models for them. The children and staff asked me when can they come back? So, they definitely left a lasting impression.”
Principal Dietz plans to schedule more visits from ACE Project athletes in the future as she did see what a difference theses students made. “For young children to see high school students perform community service is very motivational,” said Dietz. “This is an example of children modeling positive behavior for other children.”
Participation in The ACE Project is voluntary, but all students involved must abide by a number of guidelines to participate. All participants must not only adhere to but exceed academic and attendance requirements set forth by their teams or respective coaches. They must actively pursue opportunities in Germantown to assist and serve others. They must serve as a project manager and organize one to two community service based projects each year, and of course conduct themselves in a responsible manner at all times.
In serving the community, The ACE Project has a goal to help the students involved develop and grow into healthy young men and women. The program strives to produce outstanding individuals, who can take this experience and carry it out of high school and into college or the workforce.
Zack Robinson is currently a junior at Seneca Valley, active in football, basketball, track, and a participant of The ACE Project. He joined a month and a half ago and became excited about it when the Project helped out at his old elementary school, Christa McAuliffe Elementary School. “Why not give back to the school I came from,” said Robinson. Since then, he’s been active in other things like helping out at the Germantown Library, community gardens, and even cleaning up and making building service employees’ lives easier.
Sophomore Joel Wilson joined ACE three months ago after seeing his teammates get involved and witnessed how they felt helping out in the community. Volunteering at events like school fashion shows and guiding a blind lady cross the street, Wilson came understand the feelings that his teammates felt. Feel good about being involved in activities that benefit someone else. “It helps me make wise decisions and has changed my ways of doing things,” said Wilson. “I would love to keep doing this, and I thank Coach Ali for a program like this.”
As word of the ACE Project has spread throughout the community so has the impact. Hashemzadeh has gotten calls from other schools in Montgomery County wanting to have something like this for students and he encourages more students to participate. While the ACE Project has grown out of the football team, Hashemzadah is hoping athletes from other sports will become involved in the project. “It’s a work in progress,” he said, “but it will evolve.”
Indeed, the ACE Project and Germantown continue to evolve as the group’s mission statement says, “We are chasing, creating, and influencing positive change in Germantown. One project and athlete at a time.”
Top: Seneca Valley High School football player, sophomore Joel Wilson reads to Kindergarten students at Capt. James E. Daly Elementary School as part of the ACE Project, which strives to provide student-athletes with opportunities to improve the Germantown community.
Next: Members of the ACE Project helping to clean trash at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Germantown. ACE Project participants have been volunteering at various Germantown area schools and events over the past few months.
Next: ACE Project members pose for a photo while helping during the Roberto Clemente Middle School 5K Run last weekend.
Photos courtesy ACE Project.