Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SPORTS>>Football 101: An education for fairer fans

Leader sports editor

When is the last time a football coach has broken down a play while basking in the aroma of a scented candle?

The Jacksonville High School football staff conducted the program’s first “Football 101” clinic for women Saturday morning in the film room at the Red Devils’ fieldhouse.

There were 13 women of various ages with varying connections to the team in attendance, but all shared an interest in learning a little more about the game that grabs America’s attention on weekends throughout the fall.

The women, some of them coaches’ wives and some the mothers of players, were treated to donuts and juice, and since athletes have been known to sweat — and the team lockerroom was just down the hall — the atmosphere was made more bearable by the aforementioned candle.

“The scented candle will be going back to my house this evening,” said Jacksonville trainer Jason Cates, who organized the clinic after seeing the success of similar sessions at other high schools and Cates’ alma mater Arkansas State University.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Cates said. “But we get questions all the time from moms and aunts and things like that that just want to know ‘Why do you do what you do?’ And ‘Why do the guys do that?’”

New head coach Rick Russell is hoping the event becomes a tradition.

“We’re hopefully going to instill Red Devils moms and this is what we want to do to get it going,” Russell said. “We’re going to try to have this as an annual event because we do appreciate all they do.”

While it was simply too hot to take the women onto the field or into the indoor practice facility to walk through plays as planned, the session was educational nonetheless.

“It was very instructive,” said Monique Ford, mother of Jacksonville running back Antwone Mosby. “I learned a whole lot because I’m just usually kind of watching so I did learn a whole lot. I learned the plays and learned the techniques.”

The session featured Red Devils quarterback Logan Perry dressed out in full gear, to give the mothers in the crowd an idea what kind of protection the helmet, shoulder, knee and thigh pads provide to their sons on the field.

Referee Mark Madding broke down the rules, explaining offsides, encroachment and the workings of the chain gang, which keeps track of downs and distance on the sidelines.

One of the women noted that televised games provide the luxury of a superimposed yellow line to let the viewer know immediately where the first down is.

“Yeah we don’t have that,” Madding said and went on to explain how a knee on the ground means a player is down and how the spotting of the ball is a judgment call by the officials and requires an element of trust from the fans.

Madding left to applause, perhaps the only time a ref will be cheered all season.

The coaches took over to explain their positions, diagram plays and break down film.

Russell and Cates passed out the wristbands with the color-coded play selections the players wear on Fridays, and Russell urged the women not to be offended by the scent while Cates offered plenty of hand sanitizer.

Offensive coordinator Barry Hickingbotham, receivers coach Max Hatfield and secondary coach Larry Burrows all took turns explaining their specialties and the accompanying gridiron terminology.

The coaches revealed that they sometimes give players written quizzes covering the playbook, and Russell took time for review with his Saturday morning audience.

“We have a $500 gift certificate to Bed, Bath and Beyond for the person who raises their hand first with the answer to this question,” Russell said jokingly.

Russell said it was a good thing to try to educate the mothers whose prior involvement with the game may have been washing uniforms and driving their sons to practice.

“We want to get the parents more involved and sometimes the moms watching the football game might not understand what’s going on,” Russell said. “So we felt like it would be good to get to know the moms No. 1 as a coaching staff and then give some information of what’s going on actually on the football field.

“I think it’s just an informative session for them and it’s a time we can get to know some of our kids’ parents.”