WHALLEY — Kids don’t often get to play a sport with a professional athlete, so when they get the chance, it’s something special.
On Sunday (July 24), the B.C. Lions hosted their annual “Play with the Pros” clinic for a couple hundred kids who learn football skills from those who play the game for a living.
At the CFL team’s practice facility in Surrey, 15 players spent a couple of hours on a hot summer day teaching young boys and girls how to pass, catch, run, kick, tackle and block the professional way.
The instructors included starting-roster players such as quarterback Jonathon Jennings, receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux, kicker Richie Leone, running back Anthony Allen and linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
“I love interacting with fans, especially kids like this, and teaching them some things. It helps grow the game, I hope,” said Leone as kids lined up to try kicking a field goal.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have this kind of thing,” Leone continued. “We did some college football stuff with Georgia Tech, where I grew up there, in Atlanta, but nothing with a pro organization like this. So I think it’s really great, and it speaks a lot for the (Lions) that they organize it. It gives us a chance to make an impact, do some teaching and have some fun, too.”
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One or two of the pros were positioned at each of the eight skills stations on the practice field. After about 15 minutes of non-contact play, a whistle blew and the groups of kids rotated through the stations.
But first, prior to the scheduled rotation, the athletes autographed the orange T-shirts given to each of the camp participants before they hit the field.
The clinic is held by the Lions as part of the team’s “Huddle Up Against Bullying” program, done in partnership with C&D Logistics, Intact Insurance, The Province of British Columbia and Uniglobe One Travel.
The players donate their time at the clinic.
“This is their day off and it’s a bye week for the team, and we give them each a small honorarium and feed them lunch,” Jamie Taras, the Lions’ director of community relations, told the Now.
It’s pretty rare for kids to actually play with pros and learn the game of football from them, Taras agreed.
“The guys aren’t here for five minutes and then leave, they’re running the drills, spending time with the kids at every station, and every one of them gets to meet and play with a professional football player, and that’s the magic of this,” Taras said.
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More than two dozen players with the Chilliwack Giants football association drove to Surrey for the clinic.
It’s all a great team-building event for the players, said coach Ian Parks. “My team has done this event for the last four years, so I really encourage my players to be here, and we really encouraged others to be here, too,” he said.
Before the kids hit the stations, they huddled with Elimimian to hear an anti-bullying message from the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award-winner in 2014.
When he asked who in the group had been bullied in their lives, quite a few of the kids raised their hands.
“When I was your age, I went through bullying myself,” Elimimian confessed. “It wasn’t until I started playing football that I started to feel pride about myself, some self-esteem, and that’s what this is all about, you know, you coming together, working together, building your skills.”
With that, Elimimian asked the kids to raise their hands and yell “stop bullying!” before they hit the stations.
For Jennings, it was his second year of teaching kids how to pass a football at the annual clinic.
“Back where I grew up (in Columbus, Ohio), they might have had something like this done by the Bengals or the Browns (of the NFL), but it’s maybe something I didn’t know about or get involved in. So as a kid, I never did anything like this, so I thought it was pretty cool when I first did it and learned about it.
Receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux throws a ball. Photo by Tom Zillich
Linebacker Solomon Elimimian asks kids who’ve been bullied to raise their hands, during a pre-clinic huddle. Photo by Tom Zillich
B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings (in hat, below team logo on wall) teaches kids to throw the football during the “Play with the Pros” clinic. Photo by Tom Zillich
Kicker Richie Leone signs autographs on T-shirts given to clinic participants. Photo by Tom Zillich