Utica, N.Y. - The 2nd Annual 'A Call to Men' football camp brought 160 local football players to Gaetano Stadium at Utica College for a camp aimed at teaching skills for use both on- and off-the-field, Monday.
Doubling its numbers from last year, the camp is a two-day event for athletes ranging from 6th grade to high school seniors, and brings local college and high school coaches together, along with the A Call to Men organization for a unique learning experience.
A Call to Men provides education and training for young men (middle school through college, and even NFL teams) promoting healthy, respectful manhood. The organization looks to prevent bullying and dating violence in school and sports.
UC Football also partners up with Kristin's Fund, an organization that aims to eliminate domestic violence by funding prevention and education initiatives, in order to put the camp together.
"If we teach these guys to be respectful to each other, to their coaches, they're becoming leaders," said Joe Palumbo, co-founder of Kristin's Fund. "They're becoming people that their teammates will look up to in the locker room, on the field, on the court, wherever they're playing, so to me this is all part of building leadership."
The camp combines football drills teaching fundamentals, agility, and position-specific training with lecture sessions where A Call to Men coaches teach the importance of character and decency off the field.
This year, former NFL wide receiver, Brett Swain, who spent four years in the NFL and won Super Bowl XLV with the Green Bay Packers, was in attendance at Gaetano Stadium to help share his story and what playing pro football taught him.
"I think that's what we're trying to accomplish out here, to open the eyes and ears of these kids," said Swain. "To use football as our tool to teach character and teach men that it's not just about football, it's about being a good person too."
Swain spoke to the campers about how he grew up in a household where his father played Major League Baseball for the Houston Astros. He said that because of his dad's status as a pro athlete, he was always taught to "suck it up" if things were going badly, and that one's value was based on success of performance.
He said that throughout his career and also with the help of A Call to Men training while with the Packers, he learned that there was more to being a man than just scoring touchdowns or making big plays.
"Football taught me number one to be honest with myself, football definitely teaches you a lot about honesty," said Swain. "And to be consistent, you have to be very consistent as a person and as a football player."
By having people of Swain's pedigree coming to speak with the young athletes, it brings legitimacy to the message for kids who hope to get to the same level one day.
"When you watch the look in [the campers'] eyes and the attention they had for the speakers was very powerful," said UC Pioneers head coach Blaise Faggiano. "So we're really glad to have them back this year and to have twice as many kids is great."
At the end of the day, a main goal of this camp is to break away at certain stigmas that come along with 'being a man,' so that these young athletes can grow up with a healthier perspective on how to live their lives.
"We don't have to live in this box that we've been cramped in our entire lives and these stereotypes that we were taught since we were little boys," said Palumbo. "It's ok to ask for help, it's ok to be the one who stands up and says 'hey that's not acceptable' or 'that's not respectful.'"
The hope is that they will then carry these lessons onto their own teams, and into their schools in order to help spread the message beyond those just attending the camp.