JACKSON, Miss. – Current and former NFL players, area coaches, and motivational speakers will be involved in helping young athletes in grades 8-12 next week at the 2nd Annual “Changing the Game” Football Camp. Sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the camp will take place this coming week June 10-11 at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. We talked with NCADD Executive Director Jenny Crutchfield and former NFL football player and MS State Hall of Fame recipient Glen Collins about the magic that brings this event to life. “We bring in speakers on school, education and drug awareness,” says Crutchfield. “We have a speaker coming from the Criminal Justice Educational and Training Institute.” Now in its second year, Collins hopes combining the love of football with drug awareness will make an impact that will last a lifetime. “We don’t want to stick our head in the sand and say that because people are athletes they don’t have the same issues that other people have,” says Collins. “We can’t put ourselves in a cocoon. When you participate in illegal drug activity, the same thing can happen to you as Jo Blow on the street.” The groups say if they can get to young kids early, before the rest of the world gets to them, they can make a difference. The Mississippi Chapter of NFL Football Players says they are determined to change the course of many young lives. “We didn’t get here by ourselves,” says Collins. “We had good teachers, mentors and parents. People poured into us, so we need to pour into these young people today.” Former wide receiver Willie Richardson, Juan Cloy of the Institute for Criminal Justice Education and Training, Get to College’s Danny Thompson, Cody Watkins of the Heinz County Sheriff’s Department will also be volunteering their time with the kids. Collins says he hopes kids take away the whole gamut of character building. “Life skills are the most important thing we can teach,” says Collins. “Educating these young people on violence, drugs, etc. A lot of people think because ‘I’m a great athlete’ I can get into college, but if you’re not coachable nobody wants to talk to you.” Collins says many young people get disappointed and go into a hole when they don’t get into the college they wanted. He says young people should ask themselves what they’re going to do when they’re 25 years old. The time to start planning, according to him, is now. “We’re trying to get them to think with their heads and be practical,” says Collins. “Marijuana isn’t even marijuana anymore. There’s so much out there. Focus on being a positive impact for your community, your school, your family. Everywhere we go, we leave an impact, and that can be a positive or negative one.” Collins says even if you do make it into the NFL, you don’t know how long you’re going to have that success. A number of things could happen, like injuries. He says you have to have something you can fall back on. He says take your future into your own hands and be prepared. “There’s such a stigma with drugs and alcohol it’s hard to get people interested because no one wants to come to a drug and alcohol conference,” says Collins. “A lot of people like football. Getting them here opens up a wide variety of opportunities to teach them and to let them know the choices they are making now affect the rest of their lives.” Collins says especially in African American males, there’s a lot of at-risk youth. They want to tear down some of those stereotypes and build up young men, so they are proud of who they are and make the right choices for themselves. Some of the children who attend have no father figure. “We want a group of people to reach them and let them know we want what’s best for them,” says Collins. “We give them our numbers so they can call us. They’re our future. If we don’t put anything in them, we won’t get anything out.” Both Collins and Crutchfield say it’s sure to be great fun and a lot of unity. “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi is sponsoring us and Chick-Fil-A of Clinton will be providing lunch to the kids for free,” says Crutchfield. “There’s no contact, so we want everyone to know it’s a fun and safe time for their children.” The camp will cut off new registration at around 130 people, so if you haven’t signed up already, now’s the time to do it. Again, the camp is for people in grades 8-12, and you can pre-register by calling 601.899.5880.
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