NFL Stars Coming For Kaua‘i ClinicIt’s a rare occasion when, with the roles reversed, a young person can stand next to a professional athlete and be the focus of his attention. Even if it’s just a few precious seconds, those short interactions usually create a lifelong memory.
A few that remain ingrained in my mind are meeting Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller and seeing my hand disappear into his mammoth right paw, sitting behind Giants defensive end Michael Strahan at a baseball game, and having former NBA player and coach Byron Scott watch some pickup hoops at my high school. (I always found it hilarious that when Scott, whose daughters attended my high school, came into the gym, everyone started to play harder as if the then-coach of the New Jersey Nets would think to himself, “I think that 5-foot-4-inch kid who just banked in a three can really help us against Kobe this weekend.”)
Kaua’i’s youths get to create those types of memories each year as the NFL Pro Bowl Youth Clinic brings professional football players around the Hawaiian Islands and makes an always highly anticipated stop at Vidinha Stadium. This year’s free clinic took place Jan. 27, with NFL players and cheerleaders leading football drills and a cheerleading clinic.
It’s much more than just tossing around the pigskin the primary goal is reaching each child on a personal level.
“One main focus is linking the importance of school and education,” says Marleen Duarte, economic assistant for Kaua’i Economic Development Board, one of the program’s sponsors. “They talk about staying in school, staying off drugs, remaining on the straight path.”
With the clinic open to boys and girls age 9 to 18, the faces typically range from current KIF superstars to Pop Warner neophytes who one day dream of donning a high school jersey. Even if they are just coming out for a day of exercise and rubbing shoulders with some pro football stars, the athletes they meet have been specifically chosen for more than just their ability.“When they bring over the cheerleaders and the NFL players, there’s always a link to Hawaii,” says Duarte.
A few of the NFL players back this year have been mainstays with the Hawaii clinics, including former running back Fred McCrary, safety Nick Sorensen and current Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece. The familiar faces provide a connection to the community and give the kids a few more role models.
One such local example back with the clinic this year is offensive lineman Vince Manuwai, who was born in Honolulu, played for the University of Hawaii and was a third-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003, where he spent his eight-year career.
“That kind of gives a message to our kids: Hey, that can be you,” says Duarte.
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died Jan. 22. It’s unfortunate that a man’s final 75 days overshadow his previous 30,000, but that’s how this is playing out in the eyes of many observers.
It’s not my place to determine if that perspective is justified or not, but as a Penn State alumnus, it’s no less sad.
Paterno is a prime example and model of how to live a productive, innovative, charitable life, and also how any moral lapse can have extreme consequences on others.
He should be remembered completely and fairly, with his overwhelming good aligned with a momentary silence that had devastating repercussions.