If the favourable reception to the raucous pep rallies serve as any indication, attendance should be high during the two-day Miami Dolphins children’s football camp set for July in Grand Cayman.
Two former players, a cheerleader and the team mascot led hundreds of schoolchildren during a series of animated soirees last week at local schools, garnering enthusiasm for the upcoming camp while also highlighting the need for children to make good decisions.
Scheduled for 24 and 25 July at the T.E. McField Annex in George Town, campers ages 6 to 14 can expect a full blitz of the fundamentals of American football during two morning sessions run by former Dolphins players, including linebacker Twan Russell and tight end Troy Drayton.
Mr. Russell, who played seven seasons in the National Football League with three different franchises between 1997 and 2003, is now director of the Miami Dolphins Youth and Community Program.
Mr. Drayton, who played eight years and caught 24 touchdowns during a career spanning from 1993 to 2000, is a youth coordinator for the Dolphins.
The two men headlined last week’s promotional trip to Grand Cayman and, in two months, they will run the franchise’s first summer camp in the Cayman Islands.
Cost of the camp is CI$12 per child. The sessions run from 8.30am to noon both days.
“This camp is not about creating NFL players,” Mr. Russell said last week after a pep rally at Prospect Primary School. “This camp is more about getting kids active, having fun and introducing them to the game of football. We’re going to teach them how to exercise. They are going to walk away from the camp with some very specific things that they can go back home and practise and be better. Better with their running. Better with their movement. Better with their agility.
“But we’re also going to give them a message that they can use for the rest of their lives,” he added. “That education is truly the only way for true wealth and success. Knowing that the choices that you make will determine who you truly become at the end of the day.”
Messrs. Russell and Drayton spend much of their time combing the south Florida schools and implementing outreach efforts including the NFL Play 60 campaign, a youth and health initiative launched in 2007 to help curb childhood obesity. Aspects of the Play 60 campaign, which encourages children to get at least one hour of exercise a day, are part of the regular summer camp programmes run by all NFL franchises.
As for the X’s and O’s, the two-day camp will be broken into separate sessions, emphasising offence and defence equally. Campers will be divided into groups by age and everyone will have the opportunity to experience all the different positions. There will also be drills and competitions.
“When you come to our camp, it’s about fun,” Mr. Drayton said. “All of our coaches have different stories and I think it’s easy to share those stories. But kids also have to understand that there are no shortcuts. In football, there are no shortcuts. It’s through repetition. It’s through communication. It’s through team building.
“It’s good to see these kids go through the process and then get it right,” Mr. Drayton added. “Whether that’s helping them to be better students in the classroom, or helping them be better sons or daughters. Whatever it is, our goal is to leave those kids with a piece of us, and I think that contributes something to them in the long haul of life.”
Messrs. Russell and Drayton both come from family backgrounds that encouraged academic accomplishment. Both have amassed compelling personal anecdotes and amassed impressive career accolades to justify their making credible pitches to youngsters to attain a similar level of educational success.
Mr. Drayton, 42, played eight seasons of professional football with three NFL teams. The Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the second round in 1993 and he was still with the Rams two years later when the team moved to St. Louis. The former tight end also played for Miami and Kansas City.
Mr. Drayton enjoyed his best season in 1997, when he hauled in 39 catches for 558 yards and four touchdowns from Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. But his career was cut short at age 30 after undergoing his fifth knee operation and being unable to pass a team physical.
“In the blink of an eye, you can have the highest high and the lowest low,” Mr. Drayton said. “But you always have to have a backup plan. Education has to be the most important thing.”
A Pennsylvania native and former walk-on turned All-American at Penn State, Mr. Drayton earned his undergraduate degree 15 years after being drafted before finishing his senior year. He said his one regret was that he didn’t finish college when he went pro. It had been an unkept promise to his mother, who he describes as his best friend. After retiring from football and getting his real estate licence, Mr. Drayton finished his college credits online.
“Every year she would ask me, ‘Troy, when are you going back to school?’ And she just stopped asking,” he said. “That’s when I went started going back to school.
“I asked her if I could send her a Mother’s Day present a little early,” he added. “So I got my announcements in a FedEx package and sent it to her work. It was something for me that was the highlight of my life. Walking across the stage. Receiving my diploma from Penn State. Surprising my mother. Keeping my word. Because I always told her I would go back to school.”
Mr. Drayton has since earned a graduate degree, becoming the first in his family to do so.
Mr. Russell, 39, played seven seasons in the NFL including stints in Washington, Miami and Atlanta. Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, he was drafted in the fifth round in 1997 by the Washington Redskins after playing linebacker at the University of Miami and earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in communications and criminology.
During his second year in the league, Mr. Russell and his mother, a middle school teacher, founded the Russell Life Skills and Reading Foundation after he realised he wanted to give something back. Mr. Russell grew up aware of the challenges posed by illiteracy and the lack of educational reinforcement resources available to minority youth.
Today, the foundation has grown to serve more than 1,000 children in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, primarily through free after-school reading and homework help programmes.
“It’s a simple concept really, get the kids to fall in love with reading,” Mr. Russell said. “Give them access to books and teach them reading and writing.
“If you can teach a child to read, they can learn for life and never have anything they can’t accomplish,” he added. “So often in life, we wonder why kids end up in this hole where they end up in the judicial system or they become a criminal. It’s because they have no value for themselves.
“We try to teach the kids they are valuable,” Mr. Russell said. “Our No. 1 goal is to teach kids that they are valuable. If you are valuable, then why would you do something to destroy your value? That’s all we focus on.”
There is room for as many as 150 children to participate during the July camp in Grand Cayman, including 30 spaces allotted to overseas visitors. Registration begins 31 May and entry is on a first come first served basis.
For more information, contact [email protected]
lly last week at Prospect Primary School. – Photo: Jeff Brammer