Football players up for the 229 challenge

Winners of the 229 challenge were the team of Joe Almond, Archer Hathaway, Jamal Davenport, Graham Swanson, Braxton Slack, Josh Singleton, and Jacolby Jordan. They are pictured with Army personnel who helped organize the course and instructed the players through it.

TIFTON — Groups of athletics are labeled as “teams.” Their statistics are tied together in determining wins and losses. They play together, they practice together, they travel together and they dine together.

These athletes are always joined at the hip. At Wednesday at Tift County High School, however, their bonds got just a little more stronger. Tift County’s football players participated in a course at the mini-stadium and practice field that saw them needing to link arms or to take one another by the hand to be successful.

Tift football head coach Ashley Anders said these activities were the “229 challenge.”

The challenge came together as a result of a conversation Anders had with Staff-Sergeant Christopher Pellegrino of the Tifton Recruiting Center. The idea came up “on the fly,” said Pellegrino. The two hashed out a course which not only demanded physical skill from the players but, as Pellegrino described in an email, one to “increase morale, team cohesion, communication.”

With Army personnel on hand, Anders and coaches sent players through the course.

Tift’s players were divided into groups that brought together defensive ends with wide receivers, kickers with linebackers and every other combination in between. Anders said the stations were “wounded man” carry, air squats, 50-yard buddy carry, a lap around the track carrying a telephone pole (the pole was chopped in half), 10 sit-ups with the telephone pole, power cleans, two laps around the track and finally, something he could only describe as a “leadership challenge.”

Once the players arrived at the leadership challenge, Pellegrino filled in the details.

Waiting for the groups were three pads set up on the practice field, spaced apart within 10 yards. There was also a piece of lumber.

Pretend, said Pellegrino, “All this is lava.” The groups were tasked with crossing that lava. They could not jump from bag to bag, but had to cross it with the board. They could not touch the grass between the 10 yards and the board could not touch the grass in the same area.

The instructions had to be followed to progress.

“If somebody falls,” he said, meaning either the board or the human, “you have to start over.” That applied to everyone in the group and not just the one falling.

As the board had to be moved from bag to bag to cross, the Blue Devils groups had to figure out the quickest way to cross. Some settled on a man per bag to pass the board and ensure safe crossing on the wobbly piece of lumber. Others initially had two men per bag, but realized three large football players (two on the bag and one crossing) was just too much humanity for a small space.

Still another group realized they had two men over and no one to re-set the board for the next man. The board was thrown to the other side (and fortunately caught), but that, too, was a violation, and the group had to start the activity again.

More than one group was heard to utter “Teamwork makes the dream work” during this station.

As challenging as the course was, players should be happy Tifton’s area code changed from 912 to 229 in 2001. As part of the 229 Challenge, groups had to do 229 of certain exercises, including power cleans, pushups and sit-ups. Not all players had to do these amounts, but the group total had to add up to 229.

Groups were timed from start to finish. The ultimate winners were Joe Almond, Jamal Davenport, Archer Hathaway, Jacolby Jordan, Brandon Slack, Josh Singleton and Graham Swanson.

Anders issued his thanks to Pellegrino and Army personnel for making the event happen.

Tift County will be on the field for more competition — football, this time — Friday with the annual Soap Bowl.

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