An elementary school playground game of HORSE looks a lot different when Rene Coggins lines up with the fourth-graders at recess.

Even for the unlucky kid who lined up in front of the Northern Arizona University guard for the basketball game, it was still a good day.

It was all part of Lumberjacks C.A.R.E., a collaboration between NAU Athletics and the Flagstaff Unified School Districts that puts student-athletes into schools and brings area children to campus. The program, in its third year, is the athletics department’s flagship youth initiative focusing on character, academics, responsibility and exercise.

“We are so proud of the partnership with FUSD and the C.A.R.E. program,” athletics director Lisa Campos said. “NAU student-athletes seek to ‘inspire northern Arizona,’ and they are doing just that through this initiative. Engaging our youth and introducing them to incredible college students will have long-lasting outcomes.”

The cheer, dance, men’s and women’s basketball, swim and dive, golf, football, track and field and volleyball teams participated in Lumberjacks C.A.R.E. during the fall semester, going to assembles at Cromer, Sechrist, Leupp, Thomas and Knoles elementary schools, as well as New Haven Montessori School and Mountain Charter School. At least 10 athletes, joined by Louie the Lumberjack, spoke to students at each school.

Additionally, during Red Ribbon Week (Oct. 23-39), student-athletes went to Sechrist, Cromer and Killip elementary schools and talked about the importance of being drug-free. Students in FUSD made a districtwide Red Link Pledge to stay away from drugs, which was displayed during halftime at football and volleyball games.

Lumberjacks C.A.R.E wasn’t just about putting NAU students into elementary schools. They invited elementary students to NAU as well. All of the fall sports offered students from FUSD and FIT KIDS free tickets to designated home events, and more than 1,300 students went to the Skydome for Field Trip Day, doubling last year’s participation.

As much as the schoolchildren enjoyed it, the athletes did too.

“When I was young, I looked up to collegiate athletes because I wanted to be one,” said Catelyn Preston, a forward on the women’s basketball team. “Being able to step in front of kids and speak about the sport that I love and the opportunity I have means a lot to me. It’s nice to give back, and hopefully I can influence them the way I was impacted when I was their age.”