By Christina Luick
The hot morning sun beamed down onto North Division High School’s football field early Tuesday morning. Boys lined up for the first day of Gilbert Brown’s 12th Annual All- Pro Football Camp, a free three-day football camp. The kids, ranging from 8 to 12 years old, were grabbing snacks and drinking while they waited for the camp to start. A group of boys were already on the field throwing a football and jumping to catch it.
Eventually volunteer coaches had everyone run out to the field and take a knee.
“It’s going to be hot. You need to make sure that you guys always stay hydrated,” said one of the coaches as they introduced themselves. After, they told them to get some water and head straight back to the field. All the kids responded with, “Yes, sir!”
When they returned Gilbert Brown, former Green Bay Packer nose tackle and Super Bowl champion, arrived.
“How y’all doing?” Brown asked.
“Good,” the boys replied quietly.
Brown asked again, until they responded with a little more enthusiasm.
“Everybody ready to work today?” Brown said.
“Yes!” the boys shouted with more ferocity.
Brown then asked a few questions about using polite words such as “sir,” “ma’am,” “please” and “thank you.” He then made sure they were prepared for the following day with shorts and the proper cleats for following practice.
After Brown and the coaches made sure they were ready, the boys ran around the field and began to work.
The camp is a partnership between the Gilbert Brown foundation and AT&T Wisconsin Pioneers, a local volunteer organization of AT&T employees and retirees. The camp ran from July 11 to July 13. For all three days, there was a session for children between the ages of 8 to 12 at 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and an afternoon session from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. for the ages 13 to 17.
AT&T Wisconsin Pioneers donated $1,000 to the Gilbert Brown Foundation, along with donations from other local businesses. Pioneers were at the event working as coaches, helping out with registration, food tents and providing security. AT&T Pioneer Manager Jeannette St. Onge has seen Gilbert as he worked with the kids over the years. He teaches them about respect and looking out for each other. She said it allows inner-city kids in Milwaukee the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of football for free. “They don’t have to pay anything, and we feed them,” St. Onge said. “Gilbert tries to instill some good life values. I think it’s a great opportunity for the community that he continues to come back into town and host this each year.”
Brown said the camp was important because not all kids can afford to go to a football camp. He also believed that it was an opportunity to teach them more than just football. “It’s a great deal to have for these kids because not only does it teach them the game of football, it also teaches them about living a better life too,” Brown said.
Brown felt great about this year’s camp. He said he loves coming out and seeing new and old faces. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me to see the growth in these kids,” Brown said. “Some of these kids been through all the camps and sometimes it takes them 12 years because they started out as a little bitty, now they’re in high school and they’re going on to the twelfth grade. So, it’s pretty awesome.” It was Alejandro Lezama, 13, and his brother Nikko’s, 12, second year at the football camp. Both said they came back because they enjoy football and have a chance to meet new people.
“I keep coming back to this camp because it’s fun … and he pushes you to be better and he wants us to be like a professional football player,” Lezama said.
When asked if he wanted to be a professional football player, he said, “Maybe!”