Close to 200 area youngsters packed into Independence Stadium in Shreveport Saturday, May 5, 2018, to take part in the third annual Caddo Parish District Attorney Youth Football Camp.

The free camp, held in partnership with the Caddo Parish Schools Athletic Department, teamed local children ages 6-17 with NFL players and local coaches for a day of fun and education in football skills.

Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. said he loves seeing the youngsters having fun and doing well since all too often he has to deal with those who aren’t doing good. Working with them on the front end and steering them toward productive and lawful futures is better.

The camp “is a great opportunity for kids who would not normally have the opportunity to be around pro athletes,” he said. “It shows them that they can form self-esteem. It gives them an opportunity for uniformity. They get to work with local coaches. It gets them enthused and involved. You want all kids to dream. Even if they can’t make that dream happen, they can go in a different direction. The fundamentals and discipline are what they need in life.”

Prominent among NFL players on hand was West Monroe native Michael Hunter, the Cornerback with the Denver Broncos, who shared his story with his fans and later signed the camp T-shirts they received.

“I remember being in camps like this,” he said. “They’re a blessing. This is giving back, showing kids that the sky is the limit. As long as you work hard and put your best foot forward, everything is possible.”

Near the close of the camp, he addressed the assembled participants, telling them that football is a part of a coordinated plan for the future.

“Education is the most important thing you can get in America these days,” he said, noting he graduated from West Monroe High School with a 4.0 average. “I wouldn’t have gotten a football scholarship if it wasn’t for education. Stay on top of education because that’s something they can never take away from you. I could be hurt tomorrow and be done with football, but I’ll always have my degrees.”

The area hopefuls swarmed onto the field, where they divided into three age groups, starting with warmups and series of routes orchestrated by six area coaches who volunteered their time for the event. Parents and adult friends and relatives of the youth watched from the stands.

“This is a good, positive thing,” said parent Melody Brown, who with coach Derris Gardner accompanied more than two dozen members of the Wolfpack, a local youth football team.

“This gets the kids out, and lets them do something fun as opposed to just being constantly coached,” Gardner said. “We wanted them to come and learn something from someone else, and let it continue to be something positive in these kids’ lives.”

“We’re happy about the turnout,” said local businessman and volunteer coach Ramon Broadway. “We had about 200 pre-registered. And we’ve got some kids here who have been here since the start.”

Another volunteer coach, Otis Williams, brought his 6-year-old grandson, Sir Philip Anthony Hodge to the camp to continue a family tradition in sports: he said Earl Campbell, legendary running back with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, is a distant cousin.

“Hopefully this will kick off another football player in the family,” he said. “I’m trying to get him off on the right foot.”

One of the veteran attendees was Peyton Boone, just shy of 9 years old, who has taken part in all three camps staged so far by the DA’s office.

“If you listen and be quiet when the coaches are talking, you’ll be more successful in life,” he said at the close of the work part of the event, just before the lunch. And, he added, “it felt good to have my shirt signed by an NFL player.”

Participant Nathan Marshall, 8, has also attended several of the camps.

“It’s really important and really fun to listen,” he said. “And it’s good to have an NFL player sign my shirt. He spoke words of wisdom. When I heard Mr. Hunter was coming, I had to see him.”

DA Stewart said the free football camps will continue next year and welcome sponsors and underwriters. People and businesses that wish to help can contact the Caddo Parish DA’s office at (318) 226-6955.

photo by John Andrew Prime, Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office.