Flag’s up for foot­ball fun

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

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.”

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Grade 8 St. Pa­trick stu­dent Maria Hor­vathova, 13, finds an open seam.

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