The 5th Annual Bahamas Bowl Youth Football Clinic, sponsored by Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), was held yesterday at the rugby fields adjacent to the old Thomas A. Robinson Stadium.
It was the largest turnout in the five-year history of the event as eager Bahamian youth expressed a desire to learn more about the game of American football.
The camp was held in conjunction with the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl (MWBB) and USA Football. On hand as an instructor was a USA Football coach, student-athletes from both teams and representatives of the Commonwealth American Football League (CAFL).
Regional Master Trainer for USA Football and football Head Coach at Columbus High School in Miami, Florida, Chris Merritt, has been coming to The Bahamas for the clinic since its inception. He said the clinic has grown from year to year.
“It has gotten bigger every year and the experience has been amazing. The sport has grown within the community here. Outside of the bowl game I have done work with the Bahamian coaches and their certification. Tackle and flag football have grown in the country. I hope we keep it up. In a world where the number of kids playing football is starting to drop a little, it is great to see the sport grow here in The Bahamas,” Merritt said. He continued: “In the first year we had kids who had knowledge of the sport, they looked the part but you could have seen there was some awkwardness like when Americans pick up soccer for the first time. Now you can tell from three or four years that there is a natural ability – there is a natural hand-eye coordination, natural ability to throw a football. This did not exist three years ago and It tells me that it is getting more popular.”
Lavel Dumont, a freshman offensive lineman for the University of Toledo Rockets, has Bahamian roots. He has family in Freeport, Grand Bahama. He said it is good to be home.
“It feels good to play at home. It is good to come back and see my roots and where I am from and teach the game of football. I live in Florida and when I am back here it is good to be in the sun and not in cold Toledo, Ohio,” Dumont said.
Dumont said he tries to visit the island Grand Bahama frequently.
From all indications, the local kids enjoyed themselves as they absorbed what they have learnt in the short time they were on the field with the players and coaches. One of them was 13-year old Joshua Albury.
“We learned about the basic offense and defense of football. We learned how to hold the ball properly and how to stand defensively. I had a lot of fun and I found out that to play football, I must have a good positive attitude and do your best at all times,” Albury said.
His favorite thing that he learned was catching the ball and he hopes to be a wide receiver. He has been going to the camp from its inception and wants to continue attending the clinic.
The clinic was not only for boys. There were also girls who attended and gave the boys some competition. Alicia Strachan said the experience was good and it was great to learn new things.
“My experience was good – coming out here and learning new things and techniques. It was great to interact with the players. I will come back next year,” she said.
Florida International University (FIU) Panthers’ wide receiver Jordan Underwood said he saw some naturally gifted athletes, and if they get better, who knows how far they will go in the sport.
“They are naturally talented and gifted. I can tell when we were just throwing the ball and running around catching the ball – even playing soccer before we all started. They have very good footwork, speed and quickness,” Underwood said.
He hopes the clinic grows and gets even bigger in the future. He is excited to play in this bowl game on Friday.
Assistant offensive line coach for the Panthers Steven Ciocci said it is awesome to give back to the game of football.
“Anytime we get to come out and work with the youth especially young guys who are trying to learn the game of football, as much as they get out of it, our players and coaches get even more out of it. It is awesome to give back to the game and working with young kids,” Ciocci said. He said he is glad to see the game growing outside of the United States.
Parker Stone, staff member of ESPN, said this is his third time here for the Bahamas Bowl and the clinic is his favorite event of bowl week.
“Seeing the players come in and give something to the community is special for an international game. It is good to see them the take something that is associated with our country and culture and to blend it with this country and this culture, I think it is beautiful,” he said.
Trent Vause, Rockets’ graduate assistant coach with the linebackers, showed the kids how to play defense as a linebacker and a defensive back. He said the kids picked up the game quickly and it is awesome to see that progress in such a short time.
“They are developing an understanding of the game and they had no clue but you coach them for five minutes and they are getting better. It is awesome to see that and seeing them enjoy the game is awesome,” he said.
The clinic ran from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. yesterday. They focused on youngsters from age seven to 13. The drills included footwork on both offense and defense, passing the football, throwing the football, protecting the football and catching the football, and also playing wide receiver with defense.
The MWBB game between the Panthers from Conference USA and the Rockets from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) is slated for tomorrow at 12.30 p.m. at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
Tickets are on sale at the stadium box office at the stadium or online on the website www.nsa-bahamas.com.