Mitchell implements pride stickers as incentive for community service

Pride stickers can be seen on the back of Joe Van Overschelde's helmet as he makes a catch during Mitchell's game against Brookings on Oct. 2 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell High School made an adjustment to its football helmet this fall, but the meaning has nothing to do with sports.

In order to earn a varsity letter at most schools, the requirements are based on participation. But Kernels seeking a varsity letter are required to perform community service each year. The type of work is open-ended and there is no required amount of service. Players can help at community events or simply offer help to anyone in need.

Van Overschelde decided to take the reward for community service to another level this season, awarding players that are active in the community pride stickers to be displayed on their helmets all season. It is a way to encourage players to peer into the lives of others and to create better human beings in the process.

“I’ve always tried to stay away from individualism,” Van Overschelde said. “As we were going through things this spring, I decided I wanted to do something to motivate our players to give more of themselves to the community.”

Van Overschelde came up with the idea of awarding stickers to be placed on the back of helmets through major college football programs. The origins of pride stickers is believed to have been started in the mid-1950s by University of Nebraska freshman coach Gene Stauber, who also used them as an assistant at the University of Illinois during the 1960s.


Mitchell decided to add pride stickers to players' helmets for the 2020 season as a reward for community service work. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The idea was based upon United States military pilots earning stickers for outstanding service and have since been applied to football. Ohio State has become the most famous school to use stickers, but the idea is now used by college -- 23 at the Division I level -- and high school programs across the country.

More often than not, stickers are a performance-based award. Making key plays, particularly in victories, dictates a sticker and top players often have the most by the end of the year. But Van Overschelde preferred to keep the use in outstanding service away from the football field.

“We get to do a lot of different things in the community,” Van Overschelde said. “We get a lot of requests because people know that our guys are available to help and assist with things. We’ve done everything from youth football, to moving furniture, to helping out at local events. We want our program to be about service, kindness, hard work and toughness.”

Service is not just encouraged outside of the school for Mitchell players. Van Overschelde has asked for fellow teachers to notify him when a player performs a noteworthy duty around the school. The key, however, is for a sticker recommendation to come unsolicited, rather than a player pestering someone to put in a good word.

Van Overschelde recently awarded kicker Joe Haddon a sticker after learning the junior delivered a Mitchell Kernels face mask to someone at LifeQuest. He also cited a handful of players that were sent to help a teacher with a quick project, but left 45 minutes later after also offering unsolicited assistance to custodians and technology teachers.

The Mitchell Middle School football program also awards pride stickers, but it is done on a daily basis for various achievements during practices.


“If you want something, there’s only one way to get it and that’s helping other people get what they want first,” Van Overschelde said. “I think it’s a message that’s always been an important part of our program. With the pride stickers, I think it’s something that definitely matters to our guys.”

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