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article imageNFL team helps Ferguson students, provide needed distraction

By Greta McClain     Aug 21, 2014 in Sports
Saint Louis - The shooting death of Michael Brown and subsequent violent protests has prompted one NFL football team to reach out to area youth, offering them not only a safe place to practice football, but an experience none of those involved will soon forget.
We have seen a vast array of people more than willing to give their opinion on recent events in Ferguson, MO. Friends and family of both Brown and the officer who shot him, neighbors, community leaders and politicians have all been quick to provide their views on the situation and how best to help the community. While the media spotlight has primarily focused on nightly clashes between protesters and police, little has been said about those who indirectly suffer from the continued civil unrest.
Children, many of whom have little if anything to do with recent events, are being impacted in a major way. Schools in Ferguson were scheduled to start August 14th, however due to the violent protests, they have remained closed this week. Now scheduled to open Monday, August 25th, the schools are preparing to assist students who exhibit "signs of distress" by adding adding 25 additional counselors from Great Circle, a St. Louis-based behavioral health organization. Angela Bratcher, a clinical director at Great Circle, told USA Today:
"A lot of times with crisis situations, you don't see the response right away. It comes later."
Gail Babcock, a program director at Ferguson Youth Initiative, says that some teens have expressed difficulty sleeping and report having nightmares, She went on to say:
"It feels like they're caught in a whirlwind, that they feel trapped. It's scary, devastating, stressful. Some say they want to hide. They need school to start because that's where they feel they can do the healing."
The violence and school closures have forced the three area high school football teams to find alternative locations for practice as well. Sporting events have often times been used as a means of distraction, a way to take our minds off traumatic events. This allows individuals some time, even if just for a couple of hours, to forget about the stress they are experiencing and can help lead to healing. Sporting events played a huge role in helping Americans regain some sense of normalcy after the 9/11 attacks. It is also well known that exercise is a good way to help relieve stress.
The inability to practice or having to change the normal routine can create more stress on teens. Courtland Griffin, coach of the McCluer North High School football team told CBS St. Louis that the change in location has proved to be difficult on his players. Besides the change in routine, the players have had to face another obstacle; crickets. He told the TV station:
“We’ve been in a field of crickets every night, near a swamp, but we’re still practicing. I don’t know where the crickets come from. I don’t know if this is a new bed of birthing crickets, but they’ve been around. We’ve landed on them, jumped off of them, they’ve jumped off of us. Whatever.”
The St. Louis Rams and coach Jeff Fisher understand the importance of sports, especially for children trying to cope with the events going on in their community. That is why they invited the McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkeley to practice at the Rams practice facility. Players from all three teams were allowed to watch the Rams practice and workout, as well as meet and shake hands with the players. Coach Fisher the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
“We wanted to do something. Things just fell into place. We had a lot of people work real hard to put this together. We’re fortunate that we could provide an opportunity for these young high school athletes to get away. There’s no better game than high school football, and we didn’t want them to be denied of this opportunity. So we invited them over as our guests. Looks like they had a lot of fun.”
Rams linebacker, James Laurinaitis, enjoyed experience as well, saying:
“They’re living in basically a chaos area right now. It was awesome to see the energy that they brought out here, to be honest. It’s good stuff, man. I’m glad that we were able to help in some way, just take their mind off of what’s going on in that area.”
Griffin also believes the experience was good for all those involved, especially the teens, and he appreciates Fisher and the Rams for providing the opportunity. He told ESPN:
"Some of our kids do live in that neighborhood. Just to get away from it and clear their minds and not worry about what's going on in the streets and get away with football for a while, it's an awesome thing to do. There’s strength in community. And when people come together everything’s possible. They didn’t have to ask us to come out here. They didn’t have to reach out for us to come out here. They made it available for us. They called and reached out. That’s awesome. That’s big.”
Inviting the teams to practice will not fix the problems in Ferguson. But, coming together and providing them with an opportunity to feel safe, to feel valued and regain a sense of community is a good place to start.
More about Ferguson, Schools, St Louis Rams, Jeff fisher, Football
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