Tacklers and teachers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2006

Football camp gives Selma’s youngsters life lessons

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

Memorial Stadium Saturday was filled with young athletes hoping to be the next Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith.

The first annual Selma-Dallas County Summer Youth Football Camp gave future football stars a chance to learn from men who have formerly played the game at the highest level.

But more than that, those same men have also seen life from a different point of view.

They will tell anyone who asks playing in the NFL is about more than the glory and the money. It’s as much – or more – about what players do off the field and after they suit up for the last time.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” said retired NFL veteran David Pool. “We instruct these kids about the game, and we tell them to go to school and make good choices. Football is about life. If you make good choices, do the little things, you can be a great player, and you can be a great person.”

Several dozen 7 to 14-year-olds took part in the camp, which taught them fundamentals about the game and about being responsible young citizens.

Ralph Williams, another retired player, organized the event along with the Children’s Policy Council Economic Security Committee.

He said the most exciting thing about the camp was the encouragement it received from the parents and the city.

“I’ve just got a great interest in the youth in the community,” Williams said. “I love the support we have, especially in high places. The mayor, the district judge – it’s great to see them support things like this.”

Ultimately, football served as a convenient distraction to get the really important message across to the children.

“There’s so many other things people can turn pro in,” Williams said. “They can be doctors, nurses and lawyers and make great money doing that. Everybody can’t play football, but what everybody can do is be good people.”

For those who are set on making football their vocation, camps like these are all too important.

If kids are taught the right way to play at an early age, it helps them as well as the programs they eventually become a part of.

“Just being able to establish these relationships is part of building a program,” said Selma High coach and former Seattle Seahawk Brian Montgomery. “I always want to start with the babies. It’s an excellent way for me to meet them and them to meet me. This is going to be an annual thing. We’re going to make it bigger and better every year. We hope to get some players that are still active.

“I think the camp today went really well. We had a super turnout.”

Even if things on the gridiron don’t work out for them, the youngsters hopefully will realize football can be an avenue to so many other career avenues.

It’s not as much about the game as it is about the discipline and mental strength it takes to play. Those qualities will be invaluable no matter what direction the kids take.

Larry Ballew, a former defensive backs coach at Michigan State, is now the principal of Woodward Career Technical High School in Cincinnati.

His belief is that what happens on the field and what happens in the classroom go hand-in-hand.

“This is that external education kids need,” Ballew said. “It takes a village to raise children, and this is the village – camps, mentoring and association with other organizations. They get to see life and its other opportunities.”