Christmas came early for Christopher Ozando, a third-grader at Central Elementary School in O’Fallon.
He was able to cross a new bicycle and helmet off his wish list of presents for Santa because O’Fallon’s latest sporting goods recreation retailer — Academy Sports + Outdoors — donated new bicycles and helmets to 50 children in O’Fallon Central School District 104 Friday.
“First of all, I was excited to see the excitement on the faces of the boys and girls that received a bike, but I can’t even say how amazing it feels that 50 students were able to receive a bike,” Central School Principal Dawn Elser said.
The purpose of Academy’s annual bike donation is to provide local schools with an opportunity to reward children for perfect attendance, academic performance, good behavior and/or need.
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“I heard one of the students say that he’s never had a bike, and I just saw the joy in his face — this is just an awesome feeling at Christmastime,” Elser said.
Ozando said his older brother has a bike, and now he will be able to ride with him, his mom and dad.
“I can’t believe I have a bike. Wow!” Ozando said.
Collectively, the Academy Sports + Outdoors season of giving program occurs throughout the month of December across the company’s 16-state footprint, and benefits more than 4,500 boys and girls, a value of about $250,000 in youth bikes and helmets in 2016.
“This is an excellent program for Academy Sports + Outdoors to call and say they had 50 bikes to donate to our school,” Elser said.
According to Rodney Hall, the O’Fallon store’s director, this year will mark Academy’s 15th year celebrating its bike and helmet donation.
“(The children) were so excited about it, and it’s a great feeling to be able to watch them getting excited for getting a new bike for Christmas, and Academy loves doing it,” Hall said.
Hall said the company lets the school teachers and administrators make the call on who the recipients should be, based on criteria of their choosing.
“In this instance particular instance, they chose good character, had the teachers make some recommendations and threw some names in a hat and drew names,” Hall said.
One parent, Will Copling, said he took time away from work to be at the assembly Friday where his son, Chayne Copling, a first-grader, was one of the 50 recipients.
“We were extremely happy and shocked when we got the note home telling his mom, Denise Doole, and I about this. It’s great they are able to do something like this for the local kids,” Copling said.
Academy Sports + Outdoors is a $4.6 billion company operating over 225 stores throughout Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, where the company is headquartered.