After Bryan Peterson blew his whistle, a group of eager children lined up on a field at Royal Lane Park Monday afternoon, anticipation evident on their young faces.
“We have to get some excitement around here,” Peterson encouraged. “Have fun.”
They respond softly; that did not satisfy him.
“I want them to hear you all the way in Fayetteville,” he said.
The children become collectively louder and more energetic as they responded to his prodding.
“Yes sir,” they yelled.
Excitement and energy about football is something officials with the Clinton Recreation and Parks Department want to rejuvenate in the community. A two-day camp by Peterson and former Clinton High School (CHS) players may have helped with that effort.
“We just wanted to come back to where it all started out,” Peterson said about the Recreation Department and his involvement there as a youngster. “It’s not about us. It’s about trying to inspire the little kids to play football. I think it all trickles up to Clinton High.”
Dustin Squibb and Lora Black watched their 4-year-old, Ace Matthews, as he participated in the drills.
“This is great for the kids,” Squibb said. “It teaches them responsibility and different characteristics, such as working hard, accountability.”
The tackling dummies were a big hit. Participants like RayShaun Williams,9, enjoyed lining up against them.
“It’s harder than it looks,” RayShaun said about the sport.
Samir Register,9, enjoyed working on defense and hitting the tackling dummies. He enjoys playing football with his friends, he said.
“You don’t always have to stay in the house and play the video games or look at TV,” he said. “You can come outside and play basketball, with friends or with your dog.”
Like Samir, 8-year-old Connor Boyette enjoyed learning about defense and the tackling too. His parents, Chris and Lisa Boyette, enjoyed watching him participate.
“It was a lot of fun,” Chris said. “Hopefully, it’ll get him thinking about football since it is coming around, two weeks from now.”
Jonathan Allen, director of Recreation and Parks, said the two-day camp was a way to get the season started in a positive way.
“They’re going over the fundamentals, especially those kids who are a little rusty,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of volunteers. The community comes out and makes things possible for youth, and this is a great example of that.”
Allen said the interest in football fluctuates from different ages and years.
“What you have is a little juggling between soccer and football, during the fall seasons,” he said.“I think our community can do both.I think they can sustain both soccer and football.”
Keshaun Evans, athletic program assistance, said she was excited about the camp. It’s been a while since Clinton has had something like this.
“For these guys to come out and get these kids excited about football, I’m all for it,” Evans said.
Evans said children learn a lot of lessons from playing sports. Some of them include working hard.
“Nowadays kids are in the house most of the time, just playing video games,” she said. “Everybody gets something different from each sport.”
Vivian Soto, administrative assistant to the director, hopes the camp promotes football in general.
“Football lines run deep in Sampson County and we want to make sure that continues,” Soto said. “We want other things to excel too, but we want to make sure football is not forgotten.”
Soto said there’s a gap between certain age groups.
“We’re trying to make sure the 11- and 12-year-old gap doesn’t impact what’s happening later on,” she said. “We want to make sure that gap is bridged and we continue the tradition of strong football in Sampson County.”
Several players began with local recreational departments and played all the way through Clinton High School and even to college.
At the beginning of the camp, there were only 28 registrations, but that amount increased to about 60.
Soto hopes they can have an interest in all sports.
“That way when they come of age, they can pick,” he said. “They won’t come into in blind.”
Soto said there’s more than just learning fundamentals.
“The biggest thing we’re concerned with is the mental development and confidence of the child,” she said. “If you learn through sports how to organize yourself and how to conduct yourself, you can carry that into other aspects of your life.”
She believes it can continue to the classroom.
“If you learn discipline on the field at the age of 5, when you get to kindergarten, you’re used to someone giving you instruction and you learn that through a positive influence through something you love, instead of negative reinforcement,” Soto said.
As the sun disappeared between dark grey clouds, the field lights came on. The practice came to an end as the children gathered around Peterson.
“Make sure you go home and put work in there as well,” he said. “You only have two hours out here. Take what you learned and take it home and use it.”
They get in a huddle.
“Bring it in, let’s go,” he said. “Champions on three, one, two, three.”
With confidence, the tired children respond with a booming response,a far cry from the beginning of practice.
Peterson has played a lot of games under bright lights as a quarterback for CHS, leading his teammates to state championships. He went on to rack up more stats with the North Carolina State Wolfpack, which led to the National Football League.
Through the sport, Peterson learned about being a team player, sacrifice and hard work.
“Hard work goes a long way,” he said. “If you want to get anywhere in life you have to put in a lot of work and sacrifice. I think football teaches that hard work, sacrifice and determination.”
(Chase Jordan can be reached at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter@SampsonInd.)