“It’s okay to be successful but it’s a matter of how you’re going to do it. Are you going to do it with character and integrity?” Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz asked a captive audience of more than 200 middle school students.
The students from San Jose’s ACE Inspire, ACE Esperanza, and ACE Empower schools arrived at the Twin Creeks Sports Complex in Sunnyvale on Aug. 26 to take part in the NFL Play 60 Character Camp.
For almost a decade, Munoz and his foundation have worked with the NFL to help teach kids about strong character and healthy living through exercise. The NFL Play 60 campaign works with 27 NFL teams, including the 49ers, to impact local youth.
“School, sports, whatever it might be, surround yourself with people doing things that are equally minded [with what] you want to do,” former 49ers Defensive End Dennis Brown told the kids. “The positive stuff; always find people doing things in a positive way, that’s going to help you.”
The three hour camp featured some football drills but for the coaches, it was much more than that.
“Today’s camp is only 30 percent football. The [rest] is going to be about fitness. We have some great team working activities, some great fitness activities,” said Coach Andy Olds the National Director for the NFL Play 60 Character Camps.
Coach Olds impressed upon the kids the need to become the MVP, not the Most Valuable Player, but the Most Valuable Person.
“I know who the fastest is, the best at football, I’m not really concerned about that,” Coach Olds told the kids. “I’m concerned about who the best person is…there’s some things you got to do; you have to work [hard] and follow directions and be respectful.”
The local volunteer coaches echoed that message.
“You have to teach them all the character traits,” said Brian Nemedez, a Defensive End and freshman at San Jose City College. “…show these kids what character is all about and have them come outside and play.”
“[I came out here for] the love for the game and the love for kids,” said Michael Bird, a Quarterback in his second year at San Jose City College. “Football’s not popularized anymore; it’s known as a dangerous game. We want to show that it’s a fun, fun-loving, great teambuilding, great opportunity game that really puts smiles on kids’ faces.”
For the kids and teachers, today’s camp meant the world.
“I was excited because you get new opportunities to meet new people, new skills. Just in general, a new sport,” said ACE Inspire seventh grader Dayana Aguilar.
“You get to find out what it’s really about and you get to communicate with people,” said ACE Inspire seventh grader Mariana Cuevas.
“They get PE half the year, but to be able to come out here and be in a group setting with different schools,” said Lauren Adamek, the P.E. teacher at ACE Esperanza. “Even the kids who don’t usually step out of their comfort zone, already within the first 10 minutes of the camp you can see them already running across the field stepping out of their comfort zone.”
For Munoz, who started these character camps almost two decades ago in Cincinnati, the best reward is the impact he sees on the communities.
“There’s a repeat of the coaches…they’re excited about coming back every year and then they talk about taking it into their communities,” said Munoz. “That’s the impact we’re seeing. They believe in what we’re doing enough to take it into their communities and where they’re coaching and teaching. To me, that speaks volumes [about] what we’re doing.”