By Corbin McGuire
PHOENIX, Arizona — Signing an autograph for a young girl he had just met, K-State defensive end Reggie Walker asked her a standard Christmas day question — What did you get for Christmas?
When she responded with, “I didn’t get too much,” Walker pulled out one of his football gloves and handed it over. Her face lit up immediately.
“I felt like I just made somebody’s Christmas,” he said. “It made me really happy.”
Walker’s unprompted gift was handed out at the Salvation Army Christmas Dinner event on Monday in Phoenix, where K-State’s entire football team interacted with and helped serve around 5,000 locals a traditional Christmas dinner.
“It meant a lot more to them than I was anticipating. It was kind of a shock to me to see how happy everybody was and how much everybody here was looking forward to getting a nice meal and being able to get autographs from us,” senior punter Nick Walsh said. “It was pretty rewarding to give them a smile on Christmas.”
Walsh knows the type of impact a student-athlete can have on children about as well as anyone.
During his time at K-State, he’s become close friends with Tate Reid, a young boy who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma in 2015. Walsh also has been heavily involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a program he’s extremely passionate about. Earlier this month, he helped promote it by giving away one of his Cactus Bowl gifts — a Yeti 35 cooler — to one person who retweeted his call-to-action on Twitter for people to sign up to be a big brother or big sister.
Walsh’s tweet received more than 3,000 retweets and surpassed 1,200 likes, accomplishing exactly what he set out to do.
“I just wanted to do something that would promote Big Brothers Big Sisters, get the word out, because a lot of people just don’t know about it,” Walsh said. “The kid that I’m with right now, Maddix, I’ve seen him change as a man, even though he’s only eight years old, just in the time I’ve been with him. I know there are more lives that can be changed out there and my life’s changed because of it. I just wanted to do something that was going to get the word out.
“The people that work (at Big Brothers Big Sisters) said there was a lot more people that signed up in those few days. It was pretty cool to see that happen.”
All of K-State’s players got a taste of that same feeling on Monday, as the Wildcats were able to bring a holiday meal to a group of people who might not have been able to have one otherwise.
It was not an assembly line serving process, either. Instead, the community members sat down at decorated tables and had their meals brought to them by K-State’s players.
“A lot of those kids had pretty big smiles on their faces whenever they got a hot meal in front of them. It was pretty cool to give out as many meals as we could and treat them to whatever they wanted,” said Walsh, adding that the event reinforces K-State head coach Bill Snyder’s passion for community involvement with his players. “Coach obviously instills that in us on a day-to-day basis, so it was fun to get out there and get a couple of smiles. It was a good start to Christmas.”
Before serving the food, K-State’s players and coaches were able to connect with many of the families in attendance in a number of different fashions.
The event ran by the Salvation Army, a philanthropic partner of the Cactus Bowl, also included areas for free haircuts and painting nails. K-State’s players helped sweep up the trimmed hair and even painted some nails. Many Wildcats joined in with children on beanbag tossing games, golf putting mats and coloring books. Another group signed autographs on posters, K-State T-shirts given out and various other items.
“To give back to the kids, sign some autographs, play a few games with them, it just makes me feel happy as a person,” Walker said, “especially on Christmas.”
“I think the question is, ‘Who was having more fun?’ Was it the players or the folks that they were serving? I think it’s equal,” Cactus Bowl representative Steve Leach added. “These are kids who are sincerely involved in this community outreach and that says a great deal about Kansas State. We couldn’t be happier and our community thanks them.”
Each interaction between a K-State player and a curious child or a thankful parent is one the Wildcats will hang on to for quite a while, Tanking said. He certainly had one that stood out immediately.
“There was a little four-year-old I was coloring with. His name is Angelo and he was a really cool kid. We were rolling dice and playing catch back and forth,” Tanking said. “I kind of felt bad because he asked if I was coming back. I said I wish I could but I can’t. Kids like that stick with you.
“Any time you get to come to something like this and meet the kids from the area, it’s one of the best feelings because you feel like you can make a difference in any of these kids’ lives or any of these people’s lives. It means a lot to us.”