My Pitch

Blackmon-Rowley combine a must in R.I.

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This past weekend marked the 5th-annual Will Blackmon FUNdamentals football camp at Bishop Hendricken, as well as the second annual Will Blackmon-Kyle Rowley High School Combine.

The youth camp provided kids a chance to learn the ropes with some of the top players, former players and coaches in the state, while the combine gave athletes the chance to show off their skill in front of numerous college programs.

I did a column on this last year, but I feel like it is still relevant today. Overall, I think the camp, and especially the combine, are outstanding ideas and should become staples in the RI football community.

As we all know, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country.

Athletes from around here have always struggled to get attention due to the size both based on population and geography, and just simply don’t have some of the same opportunities as other, larger states. The combine is such a simple idea that can make a gigantic impact on the football community in the Ocean State.

With over 100 players in attendance, kids got to finally showcase their ability in front of coaches and scouts, that otherwise wouldn’t make the trip if not for this event. Obviously, there were plenty of local coaches, but even still, to have the opportunity to be scouted is something that every high school player should have access to, and should not have to travel far and wide to attain.

I’ve been discussing the importance of sports a lot recently considering the whole issue with the Warwick budget cuts, but it is also applicable here. Many football players in this state get up in the morning, go to school, workout, practice hard, and repeat, just for the chance of possibly playing collegiately. This camp and combine gives these kids a big opportunity to finally reach that goal, so I am thrilled to see it picking up steam.

I would also like to give props to both Blackmon and Rowley.

It would be easy for these guys, especially Blackmon, who played in the NFL for a decade and is now on NFL Network, to live in the moment and to put themselves and their families first … and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But for them to come back home and to take a genuine interest in helping those from Rhode Island, I think they both deserve a lot of credit. They certainly have not forgotten where they came from, and I think it shows a lot about their character.

I am excited to see the camp and the combine continue to grow, and am rooting for it moving forward. I would also highly recommend any local football player to attend one or both events. Free of charge, you get to learn from some of the best players and coaches in the country, and get to compete in front of collegiate programs that, believe me, are keeping note of what they see. They would not make the trip if they weren’t interested, and all it takes is for one person to believe in you and to be impressed. Go for it.

Another item that I wanted to touch on was the Little League All-Star tournament, and the amount of success that Warwick teams have had up to this point.

The Warwick North and Continental American 12-year-olds squared off this past weekend, and as of Monday morning, were both still very much in the thick of things for the district championship. I would say WCA is the front runner in District 3.

WCA’s 11-year-olds also took home a big win on Sunday evening, and are positioned as the favorites to take home the district title for that division. The North 10’s were eliminated this past weekend by Narragansett, but won two games and had a solid run. Meanwhile, the WCA 10’s are right in the middle of their district tournament battle, and have a real chance at taking it all.

Not to mention the Apponaug Cal Ripken team advanced to the state championship game against CLCF. The North softball team also advanced to the state championship game against East Greenwich.

Overall, to say that youth baseball and softball in Warwick is top-notch would be an understatement. I don’t know if there’s something in the water, but the amount of success that these teams and organizations have had over the past decade, especially this summer so far, has been ridiculous.

If I had to guess, I would say it all begins with the culture and coaching in the city. I started here last spring, and it was apparent from the first day that Little League and youth baseball was taken seriously, and that winning was important to these clubs.

Of course, having fun is the main priority, and these clubs do a great job of emphasizing that, but these kids are certainly held to a high standard, and that is what I am assuming is the root of this success.

The next week or two we’ll see how things shake out, but it looks like Warwick will be taking home multiple championships, and competing in multiple state tournaments later this month. Will one of them be able to make it to the regionals and then the World Series in August? I would certainly not count it out at this point.

Youth sports are wildly unpredictable, so stay tuned, and celebrate the hard work and success that these kids and coaches have achieved this spring and summer.

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