Big 33 Buddy Program pairs high school football players and special needs students

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- All-star high school football players across Pennsylvania, getting ready to take on their Maryland rivals in the Big 33 Football Classic on Saturday.

But Wednesday those players were making memories off the field, meeting their biggest fans: their buddy for the rest of the week.

Each player is paired up with a kid with special needs through the Big 33 Buddy Program.

Brycen Stimeling, a student from Carlisle High School, said, "It's fun because you get to go out on the field before the game, and you get to meet new people and see how hard they worked in high school."

Players are chosen to be in the Big 33 Football Classic by the Coaches Association, with students from Pennsylvania battling it out against rival players from Maryland.

On the field, there's no holding back. Off the field, the players hold themselves accountable as role models through the buddy program.

Joel Davis, a football player with Harrisburg High School, said, "To know you have younger people looking up to you, it kind of helps you stay on the right path because you don't want to lead them in the wrong steps. It actually helps me stay on track."

Grant Breneman, a football player with Cedar Cliff High School, said, "It means a lot, and it also is a big responsibility to hold yourself accountable for everything, and behave the right way, and hold yourself to the right standards."

And it's an exciting experience for their buddies.

Ryan Pipher, a student from Cedar Cliff High School, was paired up with Breneman.

Pipher said, "I'm just really happy right now, and I love this program. It's a great program for kids."

It's a relationship they both hope lasts a long time.

Breneman said, "We're definitely going to keep in touch. We're just starting this tonight, so tonight's going to be fun and definitely keep in touch in the future."

Saturday, both teams will face off on Landis Field in Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County, with their buddies close by, cheering them on from the sidelines.

It marks the 60th anniversary of the Big 33 Football Classic.