For a couple of hours on Thursday afternoon, 12 players from the Cougars football team visited with sick children, giving out WSU goody bags and regaling kids and their families with the WSU fight song and some Christmas carols

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EL PASO, Texas – Sitting in his hospital bed at the El Paso Children’s Hospital, 9-year-old Jude Simmons looked up from the Star Wars action figure he was holding and watched with interest as half a dozen burly Washington State football players filed into his room.

For a couple of hours on Thursday afternoon, 12 players from the Cougars football team visited with sick children, giving out WSU goody bags and regaling kids and their families with the WSU fight song and some Christmas carols.

A group of WSU players sang the fight song and “Feliz Navidad” to kids at the El Paso Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve

“What’s your favorite sport, Jude?” one of the players asked Simmons.

“Baseball,” he said, earning laughs from the room full of football players, who then started singing a cheery rendition of “Feliz Navidad.”

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Sophomore offensive lineman Carlos Freeman said these visits mean as much to him as they do to the kids.

“This makes an impact more than any football game,” said Freeman, who’s made the rounds at children’s hospitals several times over the course of his WSU career. “For a lot of the guys, this was their first time, and I told them, ‘Every time you come here, you leave a little bit of yourself with these kids.

“You learn to really value the things you do have and all the things we overlook on a daily basis, like having perfect health and things like that. It’s humbling.”

When asked to name his favorite football team, Simmons told his visitors that he liked the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But by the time the Cougars left his room, they’d earned a new fan.

“We’re playing in a game on Saturday, are you gonna root for us?” safety Kam Powell asked the kid.

“Yes,” Simmons said empathically, grinning as he held up the little WSU flag that had come with his goody bag.

It’s tough to see sick kids having to stay in the hospital over Christmas, and the visit left an impression on the Cougars players.

Freeman observed that his normally gregarious teammates were a little more subdued than usual as they wandered through the hospital saying hello to an assortment of children.

Carlos Freeman and a group of WSU football players visited the El Paso Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve

“They got pretty quiet in here,” Freeman said. “The first time doing this is very empowering, it’s kinda overwhelming almost. It’s not something a lot of people put out there or that you see everyday. When these guys see things like that, it’s shocking, it’s not what we’re used to.

“But at the same time, I do feel like that shock is them getting something out of it because ultimately you’d be a cold guy to walk in here and feel nothing at all.”