CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Nearly 200 local youngsters weren't dissuaded by the task of picking up trash in their neighborhood Thursday. Not with the chance to be taught football skills by former NFL players, even a Hall of Famer.
As the latest portion of the league's Huddle for 100 initiative designed to encourage people nationwide to "donate 100 minutes of your time, and help shape what your community will look like for the next 100 years," the Huddle for Healthy Youth event occurred hours before the Hall of Fame game between the Broncos and Falcons.
On a field in an area a few miles from the hall, the kids ran through drills under the guidance for emcee Shawn Crable, who played for the Patriots; Bobby Taylor, who spent 10 years in the NFL; and Hall of Fame member Joe DeLamielleure. While the football workouts were an important part, the retired players emphasized the value of promoting community service.
"This is about building character and taking care of our home," Crable said. "I used to run around in this neighborhood. I'm excited to do something I love, play football, but also to help the community."
An underserved community.
"This builds bridges," Taylor said. "We don't see enough of these kind of things. I grew up in a neighborhood like this. When the people saw the kids picking up (trash), they appreciated what was doing on and what is being taught to these kids.
"It goes a long way."
Consider that many of the youngsters involved in the cleanup and makeshift clinic have nowhere to go, no means of transportation and little to do during the summer. The Stack Metropolitan Housing Authority that oversaw the event — along with the Hall of Fame and NFL personnel — can offer little more than free lunches to the kids during the summer when school is out. There are smaller programs such as planting vegetable boxes or cooking and healthy eating instructions, but nothing on the scale of what took place at South East Community Center, which also included youth football coaches from USA Football.
At the end, each child received as a surprise gift a wellness bag that also included a Play 60 football.
"This is the first time we've had anything of this scale in our community," said Lisa Seeden, the resident services director at the housing authority. "It really speaks to the neighborhood."
The Huddle for 100 is one of many league programs celebrating its 100th season, which begins for real on Sept. 5 when the Bears host the Packers. A hunger drive at the NFL draft in Nashville in April was a huge success, and next up is an event leading up to the kickoff game in Chicago.
On Thursday, the youngsters got to "clean up, and their reward is playing football," said Melissa Schiller, the NFL's director of community relations. "They are experiencing giving back to the community in a vehicle with the NFL and there's lots of excitement."
There was even time for some mascot chasing .
Canton's Seeden notes that communities must build off the momentum from such events because they can lead to more programs. She praised the way the kids "came together" for a cause. And to learn about the sport — plus so much more.
"You don't have to be the best, you have to work to be the best," DeLamielleure told his audience of youngsters ages 6-14. "Character is more important than football. When nobody is around and you're looking in the mirror, you know the truth for how you've been behaving. That's what football teaches you, what it taught me."