Evart Youth Football, Detroit Lions style

youth football: Chris Fritzsching, director of Detroit Lions Youth Camps, goes over instructions with youngsters Friday prior to the start of the day-long camp. (Herald Review/John Raffel)
youth football: Chris Fritzsching, director of Detroit Lions Youth Camps, goes over instructions with youngsters Friday prior to the start of the day-long camp. (Herald Review/John Raffel)

EVART — Close to 60 youngsters were on Evart’s practice field all day last Friday learning about the game of football from a very special source:

The Detroit Lions.

Chris Fritzsching, the Detroit Lions Director of Youth football, was in charge of Friday’s daylong camp.

“This is what we do all summer long,” he said. “We travel the state of Michigan and even northern Ohio and have different camps for children 4 on up to 18.”

The camp came to Evart via the efforts of assistant Wildcat football coach Jason O’Dell.

“My son attended last year at the Paw Paw one. We noticed that north of Greenville there wasn’t anything for this part of the state other than up in Traverse City,” O’Dell said. “I saw coach Chris at the Michigan High School Coaches Association (gathering) back in January and struck up a conversation and told him we have great facilities and I think he could get a great turnout in mid-Michigan because there’s a lot of Lion fans and they don’t have the opportunity to drive three hours somewhere.”

The 60 figure for a camp “is really good,” Fritzsching said, “especially for a first-year market. It’s obviously a small community. That’s the unique thing, there are so many neat little communities around the state that are interested in football that if we can bring them what we can to the table, we can reach out and touch.”

The Lions had a youth camp over the weekend at Greenville to close the summer season.

It’s the 13th year for the Detroit youth camps and there were 29 total, marking the highest ever number.

“We started our first year with eight camps and are up to 29,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

The camp season started in early June.

The camp focuses on offense during the morning and defense in the afternoon.

“The hope is that we’ll give them a little taste of the game on both sides of the ball,” Fritzsching said. “We try to provide them not only with instruction but opportunities for merchandise, ticketing opportunities for the kids and things of that nature. We’ll give them a taste of what the Lions do in practice. We walk them through the way they dynamically warm up and do similar to what the Lions do right now.”

Ben Randle, 13, of Evart, will be in the eighth grade this fall and was among the Lions camp participants Friday. He plays Rocket football.

“I’m looking forward to learning new things going into football season,” he said. “You can have fun with your friends and even meet new people.”

Fritzsching is employed full-time with the Lions and had a staff of around five assistants that he said were college and high school coaches from around the state. He acknowledged that most of the youngsters were involved in Pep Warner, Rocket or some other type of youth football.

“Some of them are learning the game for the first time as well,” he said. “We want to expose to them to the game and teach them safer ways to play the game. One of our emphasis is heads up tackling we’ll focus on.”

“Things went really well,” O’Dell said after the camp, adding that 60 youngsters “is a good number for our first time doing it.”

He estimated around 12 were from Evart. “We had given out advertising material for all of the (Highland) Conference schools and surrounding communities like Clare, Big Rapids, Cadillac and Harrison,” he said. “We’ll do more of that next year.”

The Lions start booking dates every November for the following year and O’Dell is optimistic they’ll return to Evart next summer.

“They mentioned at the end of camp that they’d love to be back if we’d like to have them back,” O’Dell said. “The answer to that was ‘yes.’ It was a great day for the kids. The Lions coaches did a fantastic job teaching the fundamentals of football. They were very personable with the kids. It was an excellent all-around experience for the kids.”