High Five Fridays

First day of school

On Friday mornings in April and September, arms are stretched high and smiles are wide as Bluffton University student-athletes greet Bluffton elementary and middle school students at the start of their day.

Chris McLaurin ’25, a sport and recreation management major, remembers looking up to the football players in his hometown of Bolton, Miss.

“I was like ‘wow, I want to be just like you,’” said McLaurin, now a tight end with Bluffton football. Recognizing the impact of positive role models and simple actions, McLaurin never misses an opportunity to share a high-five, a smile and some words of encouragement with
the K-8 students in the village.

“Some people really need a smile. You never know what people go through at home,” said McLaurin. “So, if it means sacrificing sleeping in for the day, I’m going to get up and come
out for the kids.”

McLaurin is not alone. Each Friday during the months of April and September, dozens of Bluffton University student-athletes and coaches form a high-five tunnel in front of the entrances to Bluffton Elementary School and Bluffton Middle School.

Football tunnel

Matthew Nardo, head football coach, brought the High-Five Friday idea to Bluffton after hearing about a similar program between the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s football team and Kearney Public Schools.

“One thing I loved from what I saw with UNK was the amount of community support they had on Saturdays and the way the community was tied in with their program,” said Nardo. “We have the same opportunity to do this here at Bluffton—to be involved in our community, to let them know we are as much a part of them as they are a part of us.”

High-Five Fridays started in April 2022, and the mornings of encouragement are now integral to Bluffton’s Virtue-Driven Athletics program. Representatives from each team come dressed in gear highlighting their sport. While some of the young students are timid at first, others run through the tunnel, turn around and get a second or third helping of praise.

“It’s always fun and exciting,” said Jake Slager ’07, a Bluffton Elementary School parent. “My
wife and I are alumni, so we talk about being Bluffton Beavers. We love these Fridays and the community support.”

Ready for the kids

Ashley Kloecker ’26, a mathematics major and softball player from Troy, Ohio, realizes the kids may need some extra time to settle down after a High-Five Friday, but she’s noticed that “all of the teachers seem hyped when they go through the line, too.”

Greg Denecker, superintendent of the Bluffton Exempted Village School District also appreciates the increased connection between the Beavers and the Pirates.

“We’re in such a unique situation and so fortunate to have Bluffton University two blocks away from our school. We have a lot of students from the university who volunteer with our students,” said Denecker. “This is a neat program for our kids. When the High-Five
Fridays are done in the fall, we remind the kids that they’ll be back in the spring!”