Anyone driving on East University Drive may have noticed music blasting from Duck Samford Stadium on Friday morning.
The park was filled with special education students and their teachers, having a field day and playing at any of about 20 activity stations. Some kids kicked soccer balls, while others tossed Frisbees or bounced their way through an inflatable course.
“I think the bounce houses really got their attention,” said Kerri Kennamore, special education teacher at Yarbrough Elementary School in Auburn. “I heard several ‘Bounce houses!’ when we pulled into the parking lot.
“I had several parents that I talked to this morning. They said their kids didn’t sleep much last night, because they were so excited about the field trip today.”
The Adapted PE Field Day was organized by the Lutzie 43 Foundation as part of A-Day weekend in Auburn. The field day events were hosted by the parents of former Auburn University football player Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Mike Lutzenkirchen, Philip’s father and executive director of the foundation, invited special education classes from Lee, Chambers, Tallapoosa, Macon and Montgomery counties, as well as Auburn and Opelika city school systems, to come to Duck Samford for a morning of fun. Montgomery students were invited but unable to attend due to their participation in a Special Olympics event, Lutzenkirchen said.
The Lutzenkirchens have hosted adapted PE field days in their home state of Georgia for the past three years. The idea was formed by their daughter Ann, to honor the work Philip did with special needs kids in his lifetime. This year, they decided to branch out and host their first event in Alabama.
“My wife and I were driving around probably nine months ago, and said, ‘Kids love these so much, and the teachers up in Cobb County. With what Philip meant to Auburn and vice versa, what Auburn meant to Philip, why aren’t we doing one in Auburn?,”’ Lutzenkirchen recalled. “So we just decided, ‘Let’s take a look at how we can do that.’”
The end result was an effort that involved multiple activities, laughing children and dozens of volunteers from the Lee County community.
The Lutzie 43 Foundation board designated this weekend as “The Auburn Weekend,” as the organization is involved with the adapted PE field day, the ATO Lutzie 43 powderpuff football tournament and the Tri Delta Lutzie 5K throughout A-Day weekend.
“We’re so blessed with so many great people,” Lutzenkirchen said. “Clay McCall, the athletic director for Auburn City Schools, has been great to work with, to ensure that Duck Samford Stadium is available to us. We’ve got sponsors for that entire weekend. It’s just a wonderful opportunity for us to pay it forward to some kids that need a little extra love.”
Chris Tolbert, a special education teacher in Tallapoosa County, said he emailed Lutzenkirchen immediately after receiving the invitation to bring his students to Duck Samford.
“I’m just glad to be part of the first one (in Auburn),” Tolbert said. “As you can tell, it’s great. They couldn’t have picked a better day to do it.”
His students were ecstatic about the field day, he added.
“Listen, just the trip coming down was almost like Christmas,” he said. “But when they saw all the blow-ups and all that, reality set in that, ‘We’re about to have some fun.’ So they were excited.”
About 10 volunteers from Auburn University’s athletics department, as well as other Auburn students, participated in the field day, according to Jeremy Roberts, associate athletic director for operations.
“There’s a lot of excitement here, and the weather’s really good,” Roberts said. “It’s a way for us to give back to the community, maybe outside of our comfort zone of campus, and get out here to the high school stadium and interact with a lot of great young people.
“Mike’s doing a lot of great things – not only in this area, but in Atlanta. He’s done all this work to carry Philip’s legacy forward, and this is a great tribute to what Philip was all about here.”