Patriots spend an ‘off-day’ playing with Dot kids

NE Patriots players joined in a tug-of-war game with students from Dorchester's Lilla G. Frederick Middle School last week. Cassidy McNeeley photo

From minicamps to middle schools, the New England Patriots kicked off summertime fully dedicated to the organization’s two pillars: community and football at the highest level.

Last Tuesday (June 11) some 90 players on the team’s roster and their coaches left Foxborough and dispersed across Massachusetts to partake in a series of community field days. In Dorchester, some players, including long snapper Joe Cardona, visited the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School while others touched down at the Joseph Lee K-8 School/Perkins Community Center.

“Today is really meaningful,” said Cardona, who has played for the Pats since 2015. “We’re in the middle of a minicamp and all our team is back, it's mandatory. Usually, teams prioritize putting as much as they can into practicing in a lead-up to training camp. For us to take a day to get out in the community in different groups is such a meaningful thing because it shows we’re members of the community as well.”

He added: “I think it's important that we go to any neighborhood where there is an opportunity to impact young people in a meaningful way. Dorchester is such a vibrant community. It’s a place where family and community values are very strong.”


While Cardona and his mates spent the morning at the Frederick, the last stand-alone middle school in Boston, his teammates were visiting communities outside the city.

One group took a bus 20 miles north of Boston, to Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization in Lawrence, and a third group headed west toward Meryl’s Safe Haven, an emergency assistance shelter in Worcester.

Although Tuesday was technically a “day off” from practice, those at the Frederick had just left one field for another as more than 20 players participated in the sixth graders’ end-of-the-year field day, which is called “Integrity Day.” Instead of competing against each other in game-like situations, the athletes set aside their helmets and cleats to compete with, and against, preteens in obstacle courses, donut eating contests, tug of war, and flag football, each activity carefully planned by the sixth-grade student council.

The children, however, like the players, didn’t know the Patriots would be attending until the day before they arrived.

State Rep. Christopher Worrell and his brother, City Councillor Brian Worrell, called Frederick principal Meghan McGoldrick on Monday to plan what would become an unforgettable day for the school.


“Chris Worrell has been a good partner of the school for years and our principal was in contact with him, and he reached out and asked, ‘Hey, do you have a field day coming up because we have an opportunity,’” explained assistant principal Sharif Williams.

The brothers not only helped organize the day, but they also participated in it. The councillor at one point attempted to race offensive tackle Mike Onwenu through an obstacle course of ladders and hurdles. “He cheated a little bit on the ladder, but I still won,” joked Onwenu as Brian Worrell caught his breath. Onwenu, like Cardona, is a team veteran and takes pride in being involved in the community.

“It means a lot, the kids are the future,” said No. 71. “Just simple things and saying, ‘What's up?’ saying ‘Hi’ and encouraging them. I know that goes a long way. It doesn't have to be anything big, just spending time with the kids is going to be a great feeling and a great memory for them.”

Memories were surely made for 12-year-old Justin, whose shirt was covered in autographs by the end of the day, and for student council member Emily, who raced to finish an entire bag of Taki’s while being cheered on by Jonathan Jones, made each student he encountered promise they would all graduate and stay out of trouble.

“It was actually very surprising because I thought it would only be my friends cheering, not the Patriots, but that was very cool,” Emily said. “What it means to me is that they actually care about kids, they actually care about BPS. They came over and had fun with us and I thank them a lot for that.”

While Emily and her friends tore open bags of spicy tortilla chips, a sixth grader named Jada tore up the flag football field. Dressed in a pink tracksuit that read, “Never Give Up, Keep the Enthusiasm,” Jada fearlessly deked around professional players over four times her size. When she finally took a break from the game (only after scoring a few touchdowns,) she was practically speechless, but from shock, not exhaustion. “Today was really crazy. I can’t even explain it. I’ve always wanted to meet the Patriots,” she said.

One player she shared the field with was safety and special teamer Brenden Schooler, who has worn No. 41 on his Patriots shirt since 2022. He ran up and down the obstacle course cheering students on, positioned himself prominently at the front of a tug of war, and helped one of the squads during a competitive game of flag football.

“This has been my dream since third grade, so to be able to come out here and do these things, it's more than just being on the field,” Schooler told The Reporter. “It's being able to use this platform for something positive, I think that's something that I've really tried to embody since I've been in this spot.”

He added: “I hope the kids realize that there are opportunities to get to whatever you want to do in life. You don't have to have any limitations. You can put your mind to it, and you can accomplish it. I think a lot of us are living proof of that. We worked hard and we continue to work as hard as we can. Hopefully, we'll have some of that rub off on these kids.”

Like Schooler, third-year quarterback Bailey Zappe knows that having an impact outside of the game is just as important as doing well on the field. “Just being here and inspiring these kids to continue to chase their dreams and not listen to people telling them they can’t do things, that’s really what we are here for,” said Zappe, who came in last in a donut-eating competition.

After a few hours of fun, the games ended, and the players invited the students to participate in a round-circle discussion. Chad Ryland is optimistic that they enjoyed their day.

“Hopefully, today can have a lasting impact on them even if we are only out here for two hours,” said the kicker who swapped footballs for soccer balls for the day. “That's the goal at the end of the day, to do something that's bigger than football and bigger than just us and use the platform for a good reason.”

Before saying goodbyes to their new favorite athletes, the students were invited to have photos taken with the players and getting their autographs. Principal McGoldrick and her staff watched with pride. “This is something the kids love and now they are never going to forget it,” she said. “This was incredible. Something I really appreciated was that every single person who came jumped in and played with the kids.”

As the students cleaned up the field and headed inside the gym for more field day activities the Patriot bus pulled away from 270 Columbia Rd., but one player stayed behind.

Cardona, who lives in the city, stuck around for a bit speaking with school staff and the Worrells.

Later, he reflected on the day: “Every time I come to a school like this and to events like this, it's so humbling. I've been in some huge games as a part of my career, AFC Championships and Super Bowls, but when it comes to stepping up in front of a group of kids that are looking at you as a role model, it's so much more intimidating. I get so much more nervous speaking to young people that have so much potential. It’s a responsibility.”

He added: “I get reminded that the things we do here, the opportunities that we illustrate are going to go such a long way for these kids and I look forward to what comes from these kids in Boston Public Schools and the things that we will see them doing in the near future. If we have any impact on that I hope that they just remember days like this.”



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