Every summer for the past three years, NFL stars have gathered on the football field at East Chicago Central High School for a camp hosted by alumnus, Kawann Short. Thanks to a partnership with Community Healthcare System’s St. Catherine Hospital, it grew into something beyond simple coaching into a day for training, education, and, most importantly, health.
Short, a 6’3” 315 pound defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers, is an East Chicago native committed to helping kids around the Region be not only the best athletes they can be, but the best people. Last year, he partnered with St. Catherine Hospital to expand his annual Youth Football Camp to a STEM expo as well. On Saturday, kids stepped onto the football field with stars like Short, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, and also explored health and science presentations by the St. Catherine team.
“Education is the most important thing out here. I was almost not qualified to go to the next level of school, which is what made me start taking it very seriously,” Short said. “You need it if you want to be anything else, so incorporating that STEM aspect…is to show these kids that education comes before anything else. It’s what will make you successful, because they can’t take that away from you. You can come out here to work with me and be done, but having an education is what you can always fall back on.”
Getting active through sports at a young age helps keep kids healthy, develops character, and builds social skills. However, things are never quite that easy. Recent news of concussions and other health issues are leaving some parents skeptical, and St. Catherine’s aimed to alleviate any fears.
“Sports, number one, should be fun, but they can’t be fun if they’re not safe,” said John Doherty, Vice President of Therapy Services, Sports Medicine, and Occupational Health for Community Healthcare System. “The message that isn’t getting out however, is that the risks of not participating are greater than those of participating. We want the population we serve to be healthy from the beginning of life to the end, and exercise is medicine.”
Presentations for parents focused on best practices to recognize and deal with concussions, stress player burn-out, asthma and allergies in young athletes, preventing sports injuries, and promoting cardiac wellness. The "Power Plays for Parents" presenters included P. Ramon Llobet, M.D., cardiologist, Kedar kakodkar, M.D., ear, nose and throat specialist, and Daniel Woods, M.D., a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon. Experts like Community Healthcare's Joseen Bryant, M.D., taught parents about how kids can stay active and safe, while young athletes practices with Short and learned about health and science.
“I think this is a fantastic event, the main reason being that we’re allowing kids to learn more appropriate techniques for performing on the field football,” said Dr. Bryant. “But additionally, we’re encouraging those other aspects of leadership by engaging them with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It comes with the understanding that yes, you can be an athlete, but in addition to that you can be a good leader and contributor to the community.”
For the parents, the education was invaluable, but seeing their excited kids coached by NFL stars left them happiest.
“This is a great opportunity," said Monica Sandoval, who watched her son, aspiring to be a professional football player himself, perform drills on the field. “I think it’s so great Kawann came out. Even though I didn’t go to school with him, my husband did, and (he) played football with him. It’s a good way to give back to the community, and I hope he continues to do it every year!”