PENDLETON — Before the program even started, sixth-graders were buzzing about the convocation as they filed into the gym Nov. 22 at East Elementary School.

Athletes from Pendleton Heights High School were coming to talk with them.

The six Arabians who were scheduled to visit are part of the Athletes of Character program, which is sponsored by the YMCA and involves public high schools in Madison County.

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Those representing Pendleton Heights are seniors Ally Hall, Anna Childers, Emma Robison, Cade Campbell, Kamden Earley and Tristan Ross.

As the program began, moderator Dan Sager, retired YMCA director, introduced the athletes. He then divided the audience into groups and sent an athlete to each one.

Their job was to explain to the younger students what the six pillars of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — mean to them.

Robison, speaking to one group about trustworthiness, said “It means to me that your teammates trust you in all aspects of your sport, and trust you with problems and trust you to be kind and considerate in everything.”

Loyalty falls under trustworthiness, and Campbell told students how much his family means to him and how he honors them every day by making sure they know he loves them.

Childers spoke about respect: “I think of the Golden Rule. You have to be kind and show respect to other people if that’s what you expect in return. It’s OK to be different. That’s whats make our world exciting and unique.”

Hall provided insight into responsibility: “As a student athlete, or band or choir, you should always put academics first,” she said, and “responsibility is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”

And on fairness, “Playing by the rules and taking turns and sharing is what fairness means to me,” Earley said. “Being open-minded and listening to others. You need to be open and take in what they have to say.”

Earley went on to say blaming others is unfair as well. “Maybe it was your mistake or maybe it wasn’t. It’s a team. Same thing in the classroom.”

Ross spoke of having a plan because few will ever make it to the elite level of competition and caring about academics is key to an individual’s future. “You’ll play sports, and then it’s over. You have to find a job and academics will help you get there.”

Both the athletes and students engaged in the conversations about how they could utilize the six pillars into their lives.

Throughout, the program, moderator Sager tossed in questions and dilemmas for discussion.

The athletes passed out trading cards that included their photos and the six pillars.

In addition, a poster featuring the Athletes of Character from Madison County will be provided to schools and placed in businesses in the community.

“I learned a lot,” East student Hunter McCoye. “I honestly didn’t know what Citizenship was and learned how to be better people in the real world.”

Avri Miller enjoyed learning about the Arabian athletes who came to visit. “We learned what they do in their lives to be good citizens and to be responsible.”

The morning program was the first of three the Arabians would do that day.

They also visited Maple Ridge and Pendleton elementary schools.

Campbell said enjoyed participating in the program.

“I had a really neat experience with kids I didn’t know and to help influence them to be better people. It was an awesome time.”

Robison said she learned alongside the students she spoke with.

“I learned the character traits and how important it is to follow them, being respectful, kind and caring. You’re making a difference.”

The program is coordinated Sager and retired Athletic Director and basketball coach at Anderson University, Barrett Bates. Students are nominated by their head coach and voted on by all coaches. The students also serve on the school’s Student Athletic Council.

Student teacher Zach Harvey, a physical education major at Anderson University, said the program is good for sports and life beyong.

“It helps kids realize how they should act in the community and prepare them for whatever they’re going to pursue,” he said.