Many New Yorkers donned green on March 16 to celebrate at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan
But a group of young flag football players wore green for a different reason that day: to receive a special visit from two former members of “Gang Green.”
In what has become part of a spring tradition, the gymnasium at St. Kevin Catholic Academy, Flushing, became home to a few former professional athletes. In January, former New York Knicks guard John Starks appeared at a basketball clinic, and this time around, former New York Jets quarterback Glenn Foley and wide receiver Wesley Walker were eager to pass along their football knowledge.
Over 50 Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) flag football players from St. Kevin and other local parishes took part in drills run by Foley, Walker and the parish’s coaches.
“It’s good for the kids and good for the community,” said John Bonanno, the clinic’s coordinator and vice president of the St. Kevin Youth Guild. “It’s great for these pros to come to St. Kevin because as fans, we like to see them on television and we admire them and they’re everyone’s heroes.
“But when you actually get to see them in person, not only are the regular people, but they want to pass on their knowledge and their talent to help the kids. That’s fantastic, especially since they played for the local teams.”
Foley taught the youngsters how to properly throw the football and then had the kids run passing routes. As they ran the routes, the children received tips from Walker, who pointed out signals as the kids ran his way. Both players then stayed to sign autographs and pose for photos with the enthusiastic young fans.
“I learned about formations and how to throw the ball the proper way, how to catch the ball and how to do a lot of agility drills,” said Nicolle Montanez, an eighth grader who plays quarterback for St. Kevin’s Intermediate flag football team.
Walker played 13 professional seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets. He was selected to two Pro Bowls and was second on the Jets’ all-time receiving list at the time of his retirement.
A member of the Jets’ Ring of Honor, Walker spoke to the young athletes about the importance of getting their education and always having a fallback plan if sports do not work out.
“I know people that probably had just as much talent as I had but lacked the classroom ability and the grades,” said Walker, who also participated in last year’s football clinic at St. Kevin. “There were a lot of athletes I knew who had the athletic ability, but they did not have the ability in the classroom. Not everybody can be an athlete, but you can be a good student if you put your mind to it.”
Foley spent parts of five seasons as the Jets’ quarterback from 1994 to 1998. He was the seventh overall pick in the 1994 NFL draft out of Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., where he played for the legendary Tom Coughlin, a two-time Super Bowl winning head coach for the New York Giants.
With the CYO flag football season about to start, Foley said an event like the clinic was a great way to ramp up excitement for the upcoming campaign.
“There’s a decline happening in football across the country,” said Foley, who retired from the NFL after spending the 1999 season with the Seattle Seahawks. “How you get increasing numbers is that you get parents who care.s a tough sport in terms of concussions and injuries, but when you talk about flag football, there’s no better teaching sport than football. You have to count on the guys next to you. It teaches accountability better than any other sport.”
Flag football is one of the fastest growing CYO sports in the Diocese of Brooklyn. As much fun as the kids had that day, the parents and coaches always get a kick out of seeing the pros who they grew up following.
“It’s a childhood dream to have them here talking to our kids and really sharing about their careers,” said Jose Nieves, the director of flag football at St. Kevin who is running for Queens district attorney on June 25.
“I feel like the kids walked away with a real sense of what’s important, not just sports but education and working together as a team. It’s wonderful to see them and hear them live in person.”
Maybe the next Glenn Foley or Wesley Walker was in the St. Kevin gym that day. But even if not, a group of youngsters enjoyed a sports memory that will last a lifetime.