Only about a dozen kids showed up Sunday afternoon on Fort Stewart for Georgia Southern University’s fifth football camp in eight days.
Yet it seemed neither low turnout nor a heat index hovering around 115 degrees dampened the spirits of those who took part. The camp was free to kids of soldiers and the first of what organizers hope becomes an annual tradition.
It didn’t go unappreciated.
"This is nice of them," said Spc. Denise Heath, who watched with her husband, Staff Sgt. Keith Heath, while their sons Lance, Javin, Jordan and Jabari went through drills at a Youth Sports Complex football field. "We’re always looking for something for our kids to do; anything outdoors. We really appreciate them doing this."
Georgia Southern football coach Jeff Monken said the camp is a way to give back the military, though it initially began as a way to connect with kids in the university’s backyard.
"We really tried to do a camp on our campus where we could give back to the Bulloch County community," he said. "We offered the camp so that kids who were on the free or reduced-lunch program could come for free. In two years, nobody took advantage of that. Not one kid."
Rather than give up, Monken, who has several relatives who have served in the military and has also spent time as an assistant at the Naval Academy under former GSU coach Paul Johnson, decided to relocate the camp.
"The idea we came up with was to come down here to Fort Stewart and have a free camp for any son or daughter of active duty servicemen or women here at Fort Stewart," Monken said. "It’s a chance for us to give something to these kids whose parents give so much to us. It’s a chance for them to come out and experience Georgia Southern football, and hopefully we can build some relationships along the way."
This is the second time in less than a year that Monken has been on Fort Stewart. At Christmas, he brought players to visit soldiers who had been wounded in battle. Sponsored by Southern Eagle Distributors and Southern Pigskin, the trip "was a great project for us," Monken said.
"It was great for our kids to be able to thank those folks who’ve made such a huge sacrifice for us," he said.
Read full story in July 4 issue of the Bryan County News.