The camp featured football drills, a police dog demonstration and guest speakers, but as much as anything, the Pasco Police Athletic League's first Football and Cheer Camp was a lesson in perseverance.
Just a year ago, PPAL's future was questionable, with talks of possibly merging with another league. A couple of teams left the league, complaining about rule changes and poor communication from the Sheriff's Office.
But last August, Sheriff Chris Nocco pledged to keep the league and expand its offerings. On Saturday, PPAL hosted the Football and Cheer Camp at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex, with the hopes of making it an annual event.
"In the past, PPAL has had some negative attention drawn to it, but like anything else, you have to go through the struggle to get to the victory," said Tim Couet, the league's executive director. "That's something we want to stand on and teach these kids though, that life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but if you persist, you'll succeed if you're doing what you're doing for the right reasons."
Nocco spoke to the players and parents alike, assuring them the league would continue to make improvements and prioritize the kids' needs above all else. For PPAL to compete with other youth football leagues in the Tampa Bay area, the board of directors and Sheriff's Office both understand that it will take more efforts like the one to organize Saturday's event.
"We knew where we wanted to go and we believed in it," Couet said. "We believe we're working with the right group of people. We have a board of directors who have put in countless hours in organizing an event like this. When you look at PPAL and what we've had to overcome to get to where we're headed, that's the struggle-to-triumph story that football and life is all about."
Coaches and representatives from each member organization were on hand to run drills and give the kids an early summer conditioning session. Campers also heard from former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Anthony Becht and participated in a punt, pass and kick competition.
Craig McGinnis, head coach of the Hudson Cobra Mighty Mites, was pleased by the outcome of the event and saw it as a positive initiative by the league.
"This is great for the kids," McGinnis said. "The kids need to meet each other outside of competition and get to know one another as a group. For us coaches, it gives the kids a good familiarity with the drills and the disciplines we're going to try to implement when the season comes around."
Players were put through a full complement of drills, particularly sets on footwork.
For 12-year-old New Port Richey Buccaneer running back Jayvon Wilson, the drills were exhausting but beneficial. He said the experience played directly to the skill sets he needs to be successful.
"The drills were different for me because those are skills I've never worked on before," Jayvon said. "It was more focused on footwork, whereas stuff I've done in the past was always with the ball. I'm really tired, but I think this camp was really good for all of us."