Colts’ camp for students visits middle school

Apparently, it’s never too early for children to develop a healthy hatred of the New England Patriots.

The Indianapolis Colts brought their Big Blue Football Camp to Central Middle School on Monday morning, giving CSA-Lincoln students in Grades 2 to 5 an opportunity to get outside and run through some of the same drills that their favorite pro players do.

During one of the drills, children were shown how to run through a series of cones and pads, with the exercise culminating in a diving sack of a foam dummy.

But it wasn’t just any dummy.

“That’s Tom Brady!” the instructor shouted.

Patriots-bashing was just a small part of the message, though. The primary mission for those running the Big Blue camp is to encourage kids to be as physically active as possible.

“I love that they talk about team spirit, working together, keeping up with your academics, health and nutrition and exercise,” said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Spear. “I think it’s great for the kids to be challenged like this because they feel like miniature Colts.”

Each of the students went through six different stations involving different aspects of football — throwing, catching, running, tackling and so on. There was some lighthearted competition involved, but first and foremost the children were encouraged to be supportive of one another.

Mike Prior, who played 13 years in the NFL, including six with the Colts and six with the Green Bay Packers, addressed the students ahead of time, stressing the importance of being a good listener and doing the little things well.

“What I hope they take out of it is to feel more positive about themselves,” said Prior, who now the Colts’ youth football commissioner. “I just try to push the kids to challenge themselves to be better each day. Not really comparing themselves to somebody else, but, ‘Hey, am I doing all the little things today?’”

Although Prior retired after the 1998 season, long before any of the current CSA-Lincoln students were born, his message seemed to resonate. All of the kids appeared to give a full effort throughout the morning — and, perhaps just as importantly, did so with smiles on their faces.

Phil Andrews, the Colts’ youth football and alumni relations coordinator, said that just getting the kids outside and having fun is the main purpose of the camp. When it’s over, he noted, most of the kids don’t even realize they were running around for more than an hour.

“We all know the percentages of kids making it to the NFL,” Andrews said, “but this gives them their chance to be Andrew Luck for the day or T.Y. Hilton for the day. It allows them to dream a little bit and also get out and be active.”

Of course, don’t tell those kids that their NFL dreams are out of reach just yet.

“You might be surprised,” Spear said with a smile. “I have some really good football players in my class.”

In all likelihood, though, Monday’s camp will be the closest most of the students will ever get to professional football. Being able to have that brush with the big time and act like one of the pros clearly meant a lot to them, however.

And if it can encourage them to maintain a healthier lifestyle as they grow up, then the camp’s mission was accomplished.

According to the teachers watching from the sideline, the activity can have other hidden benefits as well.

“They say exercise correlates with test scores,” said Karen Scarbrough, a learning resource teaching assistant at CSA-Lincoln, “so maybe they’ll get back in the classroom and they’ll do a lot better on the ISTEP tests after this. That would be great.”

Sack Brady, then sack a test. Nothing wrong with that.