Caleb Turner | Posted: 27 Sep 2018 | Updated: 6 Jun 2021

Cougar Strong initiative inspires Utah County schoolchildren

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AMERICAN FORK, Utah – A collaborative program between BYU student-athletes and local elementary school students aims to make Utah County children “Cougar Strong” by focusing on three areas: mental, social and physical.

The program recently traveled to Greenwood Elementary in American Fork with two student-athletes and the BYU Dunk Team to inspire and excite the younger generation.

As part of the mentally strong portion of the program, BYU senior swimmer Ellie Thornbrue Brinton invited the children to do their best in school, be courteous to their teacher, never cheat and do their homework on time. 

“To be an athlete we have to be good at our sport, but we also have to do well in school,” Thornbrue Brinton explained. 

Ellie Heiden Quackenbush, a junior sprinter on the Cougar track team, connected with the young audience by relating some negative social experiences from her childhood in an effort to discourage bullying. “We used to be your age, and when I was your age I was bullied,” Heiden Quackenbush said. 

She told about how she never made eye contact with people in the school hallways and when given an assignment in class to write down some things she was good at, she couldn’t think of even one. The bullying and mistreatment she received from classmates had completely diminished her self-esteem.

One of the few things she enjoyed doing at school, however, was playing tag. She decided she would become the best tag player at her school and never get tagged. Eventually the kids stopped trying to pursue her and told her she was just too fast to go after.

“Those people that let me play tag with them helped me know I was good at something,” Heiden Quackenbush said. “We have the responsibility to be nice to everybody. You guys can be the change for someone else.”

A group of students were then brought to the middle of the gym and given two t-shirts each, one for themselves and one to give to someone they don’t know to make friends and become socially strong.

Thornbrue Brinton closed the presentation by explaining the last focus of the initiative: being physically strong.

“Our bodies are so awesome, but it’s important to take care of them,” she explained. Then, in a demonstration of being physically strong, she brought out the dunk team and some students and had them do a pushup contest in the middle of the gym.

The program concluded with the Dunk Team performing and the Cougars leaving two Cougar Strong posters with the school for every student to sign and pledge to build up the mental, social and physical aspects of their lives.

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