Last Friday night when varsity football player Ryan Blake took the field for the biggest game of his senior year, he knew he would have a really special fan cheering him on – his “Little” Callen Wallace. What he didn’t know was that Tye Calhoun, Ryan’s “Big”, who graduated from Wylie in 2014, was also in the stands cheering for him. These special fans are part of Adopt-A-Bulldog at Wylie High School; a mentoring program that links younger Wylie students (Littles) with varsity athletes (Bigs).
Denise Blake, Ryan’s mom, said Tye was Ryan’s Big when he was in a second and third grade. “Ryan has had the best Bigs,” said Blake. “We absolutely love the program so much.”
Tye said he keeps up with Ryan and the Blakes through social media, and he wanted to see him play in person. “Ryan had grown into this aggressive player on the field, which is completely opposite from his personality,” said Tye. “I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.”
Tye surprised Ryan when the game was over by walking up behind him and “tapping him on the shoulder pads like a coach” would do. “I wasn’t sure he would recognize me since it had been so long, but he did,” said Tye.
Ryan said he was talking with friends and his Little whenever Tye snuck up behind him. “I had no idea he would be there,” said Ryan. “I was so excited!”
It was even more special that Callen was present for this reunion. Callen, who is a second grader at Wylie East Elementary, thought it was “so cool” that Ryan’s Big was still supporting him.
“I can’t wait until I’m a varsity football player,” said Callen. “We can do a 4-generation picture when I have a Little.”
Lauren Esaklul, Callen’s mom, said Ryan made a point of getting the photo with Callen, Tye and the trophy, which was awesome. “Callen was thankful RyRy was there because the trophy was really heavy,” said Esaklul.
She said Callen loves being Ryan’s Little. Ryan and Tye expressed the same sentiment about their time together when they were younger, agreeing the time spent together is the most cherished part of Adopt-A-Bulldog.
“Tye really taught me how important it is to be a good bulldog and invest in my Little,” said Ryan. “He was a good bulldog to me, and I want to carry on that tradition. I hope in a few years, I will be the one surprising Callen at his game.”
The Adopt-A-Bulldog program for sports is organized through the All-Sports Booster Club. Jasa Ruff, committee chair for Adopt-A-Bulldog, said any sport can select to participate in the Adopt-A-Bulldog program and that a parent volunteers to manage it for the coach.
While the program started with football over 20 years ago, it has expanded to include other varsity sports including: volleyball, tennis, basketball, soccer, softball, baseball, and sports training. Programs similar to Adopt-A-Bulldog for the Belles and Cheer are organized by each’s supporting booster club.
“This is really such an amazing program,” said Esaklul. “Not only is it fun for the Littles, Bigs and parents, it teaches these little guys the importance of investing in their community.”
By Kristen Johnson