Sweetness!

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Each year St. Patrick High School, in Portage Park, and St. Viator High School, in northwest suburban Arlington Heights, compete to see who can collect the most toys for the annual Walter and Connie Payton Foundation Christmas Party.

This year is no different.

St. Patrick has outdueled St. Viator in the annual Christmas toy drive two of the past three years.

“Having played for St. Viator and competing against St. Pat’s and coach Galante, I am truly appreciative for everything they have done for my family and our foundation,” said Jarrett Payton, son of the Chicago Bears’ legendary running back Walter Payton.

Known by the nickname of “Sweetness,” for his graceful running style and generous personality, Walter Payton was well-known for giving back to the community and especially to the children, his son noted.

Following his passing in 1999, Connie and their children, Jarrett and Brittany, established the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation to carry on their father’s legacy of sweetness.

By hosting toy drives over the past decade, the foundation has provided Christmas joy for thousands of underprivileged children throughout the city of Chicago, Jarrett Payton said.

“I just remember as a little kid my dad letting me go to the toy store and fill up a cart with anything I wanted. Then he would pull into a poor neighborhood and just pop the trunk and I would look at him like he was crazy,” he said. “Then, he would look at me and explain what it meant to be blessed and how to bless others and we would give all the toys away. That’s how it all started.”

For the past four years the Gary family, of 686 Buena Vista Dr. in Glen Ellyn, has hosted an annual Christmas party for the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation.

Last year alone, St. Patrick’s helped to collect over 300 toys for the annual toy drive and already this year according to St. Patrick Principal Joe Schmidt, they are on pace to collect even more, having collected over 250 toys to date.

“The foundation is very dear to our hearts and this party is a thank you to all of those who get involved,” Christy Gary said Saturday evening at the party.

The growth of the foundation has relied on the effort of families such as the Gary’s and on schools such as St. Patrick High School and St. Viator, where Jarrett was a star football athlete at quarterback and running back before his pro days in the Canadian Football League and the NFL.

“We always had to face Jarrett and St. Viator in sports and I got to know Walter over the years. I grew to have such respect for him that we retired his jersey, number 34,” St. Pat’s Athletic Director, Brian Glorioso said.

“Actually, each year the boys that do the most community service get to wear number 34 for the day,” he added. “That’s the kind of respect we have for the Payton’s.”