Local hero recognized for using sports to inspire kids

Cruz said it started with wanting more fundamental football in this part of the state and then it became bigger. /Tosin Fakile

FOX 31 is honoring our local heroes with the Jefferson Awards.

The Jefferson Award is the nation's longest standing and most prestigious organization dedicated to celebrating public service.

This month's winner is Daniel Cruz who has made it a mission to use youth sports as a means to make kids academically aware and involved in the community.

For Daniel Cruz Founder of South Georgia Pop Warner and League President, the foundation of it all is family.

"I think it really came from like my family. That's how my parents raised us to strive for more. And I also have three sons and it's always in the back of my mind like they're watching you. Like they're seeing what I do," Cruz said.

Cruz said it started with wanting more fundamental football in this part of the state and then it became bigger.

"It's kind of evolved into where now we're mentoring and really putting emphasis on academics for our kids in all surrounding communities," he said.

He uses sports to as means to influence kids in their academics and in the community.

"Seeing my sons and every kid that I have come in contact with influencing them in a positive way whether it's asking them about their grades or giving them an opportunity on a Sunday to come on train on some cones or ladder drills," Cruz said.

What started with 200 kids is now almost 1000 six seasons later and for him the joy is bigger than the numbers.

"Just seeing them hit their goals, accomplish something. They can't wait to text me or send me a picture. To me that's my reward. When they make it even if it's just B's and they send me the report card to me I feel good," Cruz said.

Cruz's entire family is involved with the organization. His dad and brothers are youth coaches. His wife and mom are volunteers. His sister in laws and sons volunteer also.

His mission is to help make a difference wherever he can. He is involved with several other groups including Challenger League for kids with special needs and Strong fathers. Cruz said it is a lot of work but it is all worth it.

"In our times right now it's easier just to handle your little pod. To me I think the way we were built is we got to have our whole family," Cruz said. "We don't just deal with the kids we want to know mom and dad and grandma that way we can also talk to them and we're all helping each. You can just be your pod, it's a lot more work to have an extended family but like the benefits are worth it to me," he added.

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