Gary Clark (front) addresses parents and children before the start of the Gridiron Legacy Football Clinic Sunday afternoon at East Rockingham High School. With him (left to right) are Ravin Caldwell, Ed Simmons, Clarence Vaughn and John Booty. (Photo by Lauren Jefferson)
When former NFL wide receiver Gary Clark sent a crowd of excited kids to the end zone to begin the Gridiron Legacy football clinic Sunday afternoon, he also invited parents to join in.
“This isn’t like other camps,” he said. “You’re the ones who will be with them after we leave to continue these exercises. They don’t look up to us, they look up to you. Don’t worry. You don’t have to go full speed.”
Most stayed in the stands or on the sidelines at East Rockingham High School, but about 20 moms and dads joined in for the three-hour free event sponsored by VBS Mortgage and Farmers & Merchants Bank.
Gridiron Legacy was started by Gary Clark, a former James Madison University player who went on to a successful career with the Washington Redskins. The one-day camps, which are held at various locations in the mid-Atlantic region, stress a long-term commitment to fitness and conditioning.
“We came across this program and saw it as a very valuable community outreach and something healthy for kids,” said Susan K. Olson, bank vice president. “Gary Clark’s whole purpose is to reach out and promote fitness for youth and to fight childhood obesity, which is a very worthwhile cause.”
With Clark on Sunday were three former teammates, Clarence Vaughn, Ed Simmons and Ravin Caldwell, as well as the odd man out—former NFL defensive back John Booty, who played for the Eagles, Jets, Giants and Cardinals.
When introduced, Booty pointed to his Eagles hat, and then grabbed a young player wearing the same logo to stand by him while the crowd sang an off-key rendition of “Hail to the Redskins.”
While there were plenty of light-hearted moments, the five coaches kept participants busy with drills and break-out sessions that taught specific football skills.
Approximately 80 children turned in applications for the clinic, which was free for Valley residents.
Olson said she enjoyed reading the applications, which required the children to include reasons why they wanted to attend. They were invited to draw a picture, too.
“I like playing football,” one wrote. “I want to be good at it. I want to know how the pros play.”
A girl from Timberville wrote, “I would like to participate because I love the Redskins & football. I have loved them all my life.
My mom said that she will take me to a game. I will take one spot. I cannot wate to play.”
Another included several sentences on the virtues of staying fit and added, “I want to attend this camp because football is my favorite sport. I am a hard worker and a good listener, and I would give this camp everything I have.”
All of those in attendance, including representatives from the sponsoring businesses, were invited to meet the players and get their autographs at the clinic’s conclusion.
“My whole family, we’re Steelers fans, actually,” Olson admitted, “but I’ll get autographs, too.”