Mid-March typically signals the arrival of baseball season, right?
Well not at St. Kevin’s parish, Flushing, where the sport of football is still alive and well.
The St. Kevin’s Youth Guild held a football clinic March 17 in the St. Kevin’s Catholic Academy gymnasium. About 30 young athletes learned the fundamentals of the game from two former NFL players: punter Sean Landeta of the New York Giants and wide receiver Wesley Walker of the New York Jets.
St. Kevin’s has held a baseball clinic for the past few years, in which former pros visit the parish to offer their tips about America’s pastime. However, with the inception of Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) flag football last year, interest in football has skyrocketed at the parish.
“We decided to switch gears and do a football clinic for the kids this year,” said John Bonanno, the clinic’s coordinator and vice president of the Youth Guild. “By speaking to the pros, they’ll learn what it’s like to be a real pro and the hard work it takes.”
Learning from the Pros
Landeta ran the ball-control station at the clinic. He taught the young athletes how to properly receive a handoff as well as long-snapping techniques. He said the kids at this level should focus on what aspect of the game they like the best and begin to learn more about it.
“The best thing you try to teach them is about being a good teammate,” said Landeta, who played 22 seasons in the NFL for five teams. “Nobody can do it by themselves.
“If you want to catch a touchdown, someone has to throw it to you. If you want to throw the touchdown, someone has to protect you for you and someone has to catch it.”
The two-time Pro Bowler was a member of the Giants teams that won the Super Bowl in 1987 and 1990. He ranks third all-time in total punting yards with 60,707 – trailing only longtime punters Jeff Feagles and Shane Lechler.
Walker, who oversaw the pass-catching station at the clinic, played 13 professional seasons, all with the Jets. He was selected to two Pro Bowls and was second on the Jets’ all-time receiving list at the time of his retirement.
A member of the Jets’ Ring of Honor, Walker spoke to the young athletes about the importance of getting their education and always having a fallback plan if sports do not work out.
“As former professional athletes, we’re role models to kids,” Walker said. “So if I can lend my time to help encourage them, I’m a big proponent of education. That’s the reason I had success as an athlete.
“Without my schooling, I wouldn’t have gotten seen or known – and that’s how I played with the New York Jets.”
With the start of the CYO flag football season coming soon, the clinic increased the excitement among the children about wanting to get back out on the field and use the skills they learned from these pros.
“When we were practicing the drills, it actually got me really wanting to play more and more,” said Kyle Bahrey, 13, who plays on the St. Kevin’s seventh-grade flag football team. “Now I know how to catch and how to do other stuff that I never knew before.”
The parish community was grateful to these former players in giving back their time to enrich the athletic experience of the church’s youth.
“So much of the time we see them is on the field,” said Father Robert Mema, parochial vicar at St. Kevin’s and moderator of the Youth Guild. “Getting to see them here on our field, on our court, I’m happy that they’re able to come here today and give back to the community.”
Football will remain in the news cycle this month, as both the Giants and Jets hold high picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
Maybe the next Sean Landeta or Wesley Walker was in the St. Kevin’s gym that day. But even if not, a group of youngsters enjoyed a sports memory that will last a lifetime.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.