Tuesday and Wednesday, children at the Little Rock Air Force Base learned about perseverance, passion and perspective, all from a pigskin and a Panther.
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart was part of the Football ProCamp experience on base, where 100 children had the opportunity to train in the fundamental skills of football. The on-base commissary won the camp for the base through a competition with Procter & Gamble.
For Stewart, working with camps like the one at the Little Rock Air Force Base is one way to give back.
“It’s about humbling yourself to be a servant. Bottom line, we’re here to serve,” Stewart said. “A good example of that is the people who serve in the military. It’s a selfless act of giving their lives, giving their time, and it’s a sacrifice we all have to learn to make to give back and make someone else’s world a little easier.”
Children ages 6 to 14 ran, passed, drilled and trained with Stewart and several coaches as part of the camp. The students were divided into teams with others their own age, and each team had two coaches to make sure each participant had chances for personalized help and concentrated assistance.
Stewart got involved in the scrimmages, acting as quarterback with the younger participants and cheering when they caught a touchdown pass. He answered questions from participants, ranging from why they had to do drills so much to which is his favorite team. He told them drills help you improve, and his favorite team is — of course — the Carolina Panthers.
When telling participants how to hold on to the ball, Stewart likened it to a heart being transported for surgery.
“You want to be careful with it,” he said. “Make sure you hold on to it, but not too tight.”
Then, he had several participants demonstrate their grip. They mimicked his movements to make sure the football stayed secure between their arm and chest.
Stewart said being at these kinds of events is important as he strives to use his status as an NFL player to create a platform that encourages children to reach for their dreams.
“I want to be around and make it real for the kids,” he said. “Growing up in this stage in their life — if I want to be a football player, if I want to be successful, if I want to be a doctor, an actor or whatever it is, it’s not unreachable.”
Stewart, who grew up on a military base while his father was in the Army, said he knows what it is like — the unique challenges kids go through growing up as part of a military family.
“There’s a lot of great things the military does, but a lot of times the kids get left out of it in the sense of experiencing things outside of the base,” he said. “This is a good event they put on, getting them out here and getting them active and getting some football in.”
Becoming a professional football player was never his dream, Stewart said, but he had a passion for football and wanted to improve as he began to shine on the field in high school.
“I wanted to take advantage of my God-given ability by doing everything I could to dominate in that sport,” he said, “whether it was working out or making good grades, just doing the right things and making the right choices.”
That message was one Stewart said he wanted to impart to the children at the ProCamp. To some of the older participants — 13 and 14 years old, he said he wants them to be good sons and daughters and to be good stewards of their talents and opportunities as they continue to grow into adulthood.
“It’s doing the simple things that lead up to big opportunities,” he said.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.