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The 60 or so youngsters on Camp Zama’s Youth Sports football teams will have new equipment, better-trained coaches and the potential to win prizes next year thanks to a $2,500 grant through the National Football League and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Zama’s program was selected this month as one of 200 clubs worldwide to earn the grant.

“We were just looking to amp up the football program,” said Stefan Thompson, Youth Sports director. “We feel like we could get more participation if we had more resources to throw at it.”

The grant money will pay for new uniforms and gear, instructional materials for volunteer coaches and awards for football clinics.

The grants were created through a partnership between Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The program is designed to give youths an opportunity to participate in recreational programs that develop important life skills.

“Activities such as football teach character- building and leadership skills, as well as how to work with people from diverse backgrounds,” wrote Paula Harding, Zama’s Child and Youth Services Coordinator.

Many coaches and teammembers said they were thrilled — but not surprised — by the award.

“It was long overdue,” said Lt. Col. Willie Turner, chief of logistics for U.S. Army Japan and a coach.

“It’s good for team building. Individually, it builds their confidence level,” he said. “… For a kid who’s never played before, it’s great.”

Youth Sports offers kids at Zama seasonal sports including cheerleading, inline hockey and a swim team as well as special events and clinics.

Participants fall into two age categories: 7 to 10 years old, and 11 to 15. There are about 60 participants, including a few girls.

Thompson said he also hopes to change the football season at Zama to the springtime to attract more participants. It currently runs in August and September, when many students are away on vacation.

Although the teams play flag football, which means no tackling, “it does lay a foundation for tackle football,” Thompson said. “It teaches the fundamental skills: passing, kicking, catching and the functions of each position.”

And there are residual benefits of any sports program, he said.

“It’s an easy transition, to apply the lessons learned on the field to the real world,” he said. “Any exercise that gets kids away from video games is good.”

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