Union wrestlers help shine a light on Sunday night

Berfanger brothers set up study hall to help fellow students

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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Zach Berfanger was a little bit worried when Sunday Night Lights opened its doors.

"I thought no one was going to come and that we were going to be lonely," he recalled.

Turns out, there were plenty who wanted help from the Berfanger brothers.

Who knew a study hall organized by a couple of athletes, on a Sunday night no less, could become a destination?

Alex and Zach Berfanger, football players and wrestlers from Union High School, simply wanted to help some of their teammates who were struggling with their studies. Now, Sunday Night Lights is open to all students in the Evergreen School District. Centrally located at the Berfanger's church — Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (16001 NE 34th St.) — the brothers, their parents, and a teacher are there just about every Sunday night.

More than a dozen show up weekly during the three-hour window, 6 to 9 p.m. The brothers expect even more once news of the study hall spreads to Heritage, Evergreen, and Mountain View high schools. Middle school students are encouraged to attend, as well.

"In the beginning, we wanted it to be a way to get our fellow athletes to be eligible for grades," Alex acknowledged. "Then we decided we didn't want to be selfish about it. Open it up to the whole district."

So far, most of the students are from Union.

"The ultimate goal is to make this an Evergreen School District thing. It's for every kid," said Jason Moore, an English teacher at Union who also volunteers on Sunday nights. He makes sure it is more study hall than social hour.

Resources available at Sunday Night Lights include Wi-Fi, printing, and computers. Dave Berfanger, Alex and Zach's father, is the IT expert for the project. June, the boys' mom, brings food and other snacks.

Organizers assign tutors to students when necessary, but often, the students help out each other.

"It's getting students who work well with each other together more than assigning tutors," Alex Berfanger said. "People who work on similar subjects tend to sit by each other and work through things themselves."

Taggart Hartwig, a Union High School student, acknowledged he was slipping with his studies before he started attending Sunday Night Lights.

"It just gives me more time to study, and it gives me time to focus on my work," he said.

His younger brother, Miles, is an eighth-grader at Pacific Middle School and regularly attends.

"I saw what it was doing for my brother, so I started coming with him," Miles said. "They have different people at different subjects who are really good at it. They help you one-one-one. It's not one-on-26 or however many are in your class."

The Berfanger brothers are getting good reviews from grateful parents, too.

Alex Berfanger said the parents are thrilled there is a place for their children to "feel motivated to get their work done."

While this might not seem like a sports story, the Berfanger brothers are athletes. And the drive they have to excel in athletics is the same type of drive needed to excel academically.

"Sports helps me prioritize my life," said Alex Berfanger, a junior. "What is most important? School is definitely more important. Without school, there is no sports. Sports also helps with my work ethic. You work hard, and you'll go where you want to go."

Zach Berfanger, a sophomore, said sports made him manage his time better. As a two-sport athlete, he knows for most of the school year that he will not have three hours right after school to study every day.

"You work more efficiently," Zach said.

Through sports, he learned leadership skills, which he takes with him to the classroom.

"It's made be a better person, a better leader," Zach said. "When we do a group project I feel my group's going to get done faster because I feel I can get the group on task faster."

Sunday Night Lights also provides tech service to members of the church and the community. Church leaders waived the user fee for the building use if the group assisted church members with a computer question or two.

All of the services — the tutoring, the Wi-Fi, or the tech support — are free.

The Berfangers have received other forms of payment, though.

"One lady brought a giant mountain of cookies," Zach Berfanger said.

Not necessary, but it was appreciated.

So as the second half of the school year begins, the Berfangers expect more students to attend Sunday Night Lights. It has turned into something much bigger than they expected.

"Yeah, I'm pretty proud of it," Alex Berfanger said.

Note: For more information, go to sundaynightlights.org