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Summer camp passes pigskin and tradition
On opposite sides of a makeshift gridiron at Malibu Bluffs Park, two teams of three young boys meet at the line of scrimmage; they take a stance and wait for one of the boys – playing quarterback – to blurt out “hike.”
The ball is snapped from one boy to the quarterback as the third runs down the field, past the defensive trio. The quarterback tosses the ball toward the boy with a wobbly spiral. With all eyes on the ball, it lands in the hands of the third boy whose glory lasts only a moment before his flags are ripped from his waist.
“Second down, all right, let’s set it up again,” said Ray Humphrey to the flag football summer campers as they run back to the new line of scrimmage.
For Humphrey, who coaches varsity football at Malibu High School, one of his favorite aspects of teaching football to young children is seeing them have fun playing it – but beyond that, he sees the flag football camp as another step toward reviving Malibu’s lost football culture.
“Malibu is not a football town and one of the biggest things I have a problem with at the high school is getting the kids out to learn it,” he said.
Humphrey added that Malibu resident Michael Bonewitz’s efforts in the past few months to revive Malibu’s Pop Warner program, in addition to the flag football camps, could allow children in Malibu to grow up with an appreciation for football necessary to reignite a local culture for the sport.
“If I can teach them at a younger age and let them grow up playing football, now that we have a Pop Warner program starting up, maybe this will all combine together,” Humphrey said, clarifying that perhaps interest in the flag football camps could seed into the Pop Warner program, which would eventually seed into Malibu High School’s football program.
But teaching young children football, some as young as 5 years old, isn’t without its challenges. With a variety of drills to perform and plays to learn, Humphrey said sometimes the hardest part about teaching children football is simply getting them to pay attention.
“You have to go in spurts because they catch on to something they really like and that’s what they want to do all the time,” he said. “It can be a challenge to move them away from certain things to teach them different things, like, everyone wants to play offense and no one want to be defense, but you have to teach them that defense is fun, too.”
Another challenge, Humphrey said, is one that both he and the children must overcome from different perspectives, and that’s showing the children they can do whatever it is they may think they can’t do when it comes to football.
“There’s so many kids at the beginning of this camp who say they can’t do something, so I think the most challenging thing for them is to get over the thoughts that they’re too young or too small or not fast enough or big enough,” he said, “because they get out there, and then it works.”
When the exclamations of “I can’t” transform into “I can,” Humphrey said, is when he knows both he and the children have succeeded.