Flag’s up for football fun
It is, as program director Curtis Bell promises in his “pre-game” locker-room pep-talk, a little taste of what training camp is like for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
And if the elementary school students in the FirstOn The Field flag football program don’t believe it just then, they certainly do after they jog into the players tunnel at midfield, through the machine-made mist, and out onto the turf at Tim Hortons Field to find eight Tiger-Cats waiting for them.
Over four consecutive Wednesdays, a total of 600 students aged 11 to 13, will benefit from the 90-minute workouts. The midday sessions run them through four skill development stations in the first half and four flag football games in the second.
The Tiger-Cats, and some high school players, teach the skills and during the games they play quarterback.
Wednesday was the second instalment of the program — which includes students from seven different Hamilton elementary schools — and St. Patrick and Templemead players had their turn on the field.
When the kids arrived (with a Ticat accompanying them on the school bus), each found a locker stall with a personalized name plate, a team shirt and a set of flags.
Then Bell, a former Tiger-Cat, gives his introductory speech in the locker-room. And if we could harness the energy that ignites, we wouldn’t need Hydro One.
“The kids are over the moon about this,” said Templemead phys-ed teacher Kyle Woods. “We’ve been doing flag football at school. We have a large number of Tiger-Cats fans at the school, and a large number of football players.”
But there are also a lot of boys and girls who’ve never been involved in the sport before, in any way, and they get a lot out of First-On The Field, too.
Grade 7 Templemead students Dana Giblin and Brady Frost don’t play the game, but loved their afternoon.
“The players make it fun,” says Giblin. “You get to play football for the day, and hang out with the Tiger-Cats. I like the (touchdown) celebration part.”
Frost says that now he may play some football when he gets a bit older, adding, “I learned here that if you learn all the skills, you’ll get better at football.”
Kelly McGiffin is president and CEO of FirstOntario Credit Union, which this year has entered into a substantial long-term promotional/advertising agreement with the Tiger-Cats, which includes revamped fifth-floor suites on the stadium’s west side.
“This (FirstOn) was all part of the larger package,” McGiffin says. “But when they told us about this, that’s what really put it over the top for us.
“This is an iconic Hamilton institution and we’re proud to be a Hamilton company, and we like to make contributions to our community.”
Tiger-Cat players Mike Filer, Courtney Stephen, Mike Daly, Kevin Elliott, Jeremiah Masoli, Nick Shortill, Terrell Davis and Justin Capiccotti were energetic, demonstrative and outright funny in their roles as skills instructors, motivational speakers and quarterbacks.
“Definitely one of the components is to make sure that kids realize that getting active physically helps them maintain a healthy body, a healthy lifestyle,” said Masoli, the Ticats’ No. 2 QB. “We had a wide range of kids, some who play football and some who have never played, but everybody was active, everybody was involved. “
Stephen said it is important that kids see players as role models, but also that they see them having fun doing what they do every day for a living and being “fulfilled with where you’re putting your energy.
“I think it’s a good way for them to get away from what they do every day, to release from having to be super cool all the time. To cut loose.
“Nobody out here is excelling at football, they’re just kids having fun.”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver — turned quarterback — Kevin Elliott calls out the pass pattern at Tim Hortons Field on Wednesday where Ticat players worked with 11- to 13-year-old students from Templemead and St. Patrick schools in flag football sessions.
Grade 8 St. Patrick student Maria Horvathova, 13, finds an open seam.