Baylor coach Scott Drew wanted to show his basketball players how soldiers train for combat while giving them a heightened awareness of the military.
So the Bears took a field trip last weekend to Fort Hood.
It was an eye-opening experience for the players as they tore through obstacle courses, performed leadership drills and witnessed the reactions of Army families as soldiers returned from Afghanistan.
“We really gained a lot of respect for what the soldiers do on a daily basis,” Baylor freshman forward Chad Rykhoek said. “You really have to appreciate it. It was pretty tough, but it was a good experience to help us become better leaders and have a good work ethic.”
The Baylor basketball players left the Ferrell Center at 7:30 a.m. Saturday dressed in combat boots, camouflaged pants and long sleeved black T-shirts.
After arriving at Fort Hood, they went through some serious training that included hand-to-hand combat drills, weapons simulation, marching and an obstacle course.
The obstacle course included climbing up ladders, sliding along a suspended rope, hanging from balance beams and crawling under barbed wire. Imagine guys who stand 6-9 to 7 feet trying to crawl under barbed wire.
“The obstacle course was the toughest thing we had to do,” Baylor junior forward Cory Jefferson said. “We had to climb a 30-foot ladder and then climb a rope all the way back down. A couple of guys fell off the rope, but there was a net under it. We also crawled in dirt under barbed wire. It was crazy.”
Jefferson is a Killeen High School graduate whose mother served in the military. He was glad his Baylor teammates got to experience how soldiers train while getting a sense of the military life.
The most emotional part of the weekend was seeing families welcome troops back home from Afghanistan.
“It was something special, and I was glad the rest of the team got to see it,” Jefferson said. “They saw what it’s like when someone comes back, and how their family reacts to it.”
Drew said the Baylor coaches were moved by the welcome back ceremony.
“Our whole staff had tears in our eyes,” Drew said. “The whole welcome home ceremony was moving with about 200 soldiers coming back. When you see college kids get tears in their eyes, you know it’s something big.”
Drew set up the weekend in Fort Hood with Col. Mark Simerly, commander of the 4th Sustainment Brigade. Some of the Baylor players coached four Fort Hood teams in basketball games. But the Bears clearly gained the most from the weekend.
“Our guys experienced what soldiers go through and see how they sacrifice for our country,” Drew said. “I think it really hit home for them to see how blessed were are.”