NORMAN — Whitney Wofford bounced around the football practice field going from one group of kids to another, offering high fives and smiles.
The kids didn’t know who the bright-eyed, long-haired blonde was. Didn’t know she plays tennis at Oklahoma.
Didn’t know she was the reason they were there.
Wofford wasn’t the most recognizable athlete at Sooners for N7, an event done recently by OU athletes to promote healthy, active lifestyles to Native American kids. Trevor Knight was there. So were Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. Everyone knows who they are and what they do.
But Wofford is a reminder that it’s not just the high-profile college athletes who having an impact.
“I crazily think I can change the world some day,” said Wofford, one of the athletes who received the Athletics Council’s Service Award for important contributions to the community on Tuesday during OU’s Scholar-Athlete Breakfast.
“I want to leave my mark here.”
If Sooners for N7 is any indication, mission accomplished.
Wofford interned last summer at Nike. During her 12 weeks at the company’s headquarters in Oregon, she was approached by the founder of N7. It is an initiative started a few years ago by the apparel giant to bring sport and all of its benefits to Native American and Aboriginal communities. These are communities often plagued by poor health and substance abuse, and Nike has done everything from donating gear to raising money in an effort to get folks moving and motivated to take better care of themselves.
The wheels in Wofford’s head started turning. She would soon be returning to Norman, which was within driving distance of several tribes, and she had already been chosen as the community outreach liaison for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at OU.
“This is a sign, Whitney,” she said to herself. “You are going to reach out to your community with this.”
It’s a community she’s adopted. She is from Lubbock, Texas. She started her college career at Tennessee. But since transferring to OU in the summer of 2011, her home and her heart has been in Oklahoma.
Soon after she returned to campus last fall, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s executive group met to discuss its plans for the year. Wofford told the group about N7 and proposed an idea — an event styled after an old-fashioned field day that would promote health and wellness to Native Americans. There would be different stations. Some would focus on getting active. Stretching. Jumping rope. Running. Even playing hula hoop. Others would be geared toward staying healthy. Nutrition. Hydration.
Athletes at Oregon, Nike’s flagship university, do an N7 event, but theirs is for high school students.
OU’s would be for kids ages 10 to 12.
“I did have kind of a big, crazy idea,” Wofford admitted.
As she talked, some of kids from the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes were coming through an entrance to the football practice field. More than 200 would check in before the day was done.
“And most of it’s panned out the way we envisioned it,” Wofford said.
Putting on Sooners for N7 took help from a lot of people, of course. The other athletes in the advisory council’s executive group. Juliana Smith, a graduate assistant in the athletic department. Carol Ludvigson, the director of student-athlete development. Nicki Moore, the senior associate athletic director who oversees student life. Then, there were 200 Sooner athletes who volunteered and helped at the event.
But it all started with Wofford, and she felt a duty to see it through. Even though she’s a full-time student and a full-time athlete, she still found time to plan — though it sometimes happened in unlikely places.
“I’d work on it in practice while I’m on the court,” she said. “I’d be practicing, and I’ll be like ... ‘Forehand, and Station No. 8 should be hula hoop.’”
“Don’t need to tell my coach that. He’ll kill me.”
That seems unlikely, especially with the success of Sooners for N7. There is already a waiting list for next year.
Maybe that notion of changing the world isn’t so crazy after all.
“The world’s not going to get changed if someone doesn’t try,” Wofford said. “If everyone thinks they can’t, it never will change.”
“I just want to do something great.”
Seems like she already has.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.