Cody Hyman tucks the football against his side with his right arm and waits for the whistle. It sounds and the Harlem 12-year-old takes off, hurtling himself through a pair of practice dummies, pivoting around some hurdles and leaping others before reaching the finish line.
Cody was one of around 100 children ages 7-14 taking part of the Gatorade Atlanta Falcons mini-camp at Harlem Middle School on Monday to learn some football fundamentals. No professional players came, but Falcons staff members and volunteers put the pre-teens through running, passing, catching and kicking drills on the school's football field.
Cameron May, 11, dives through the blocking cones in an attempt to catch the ball during the Falcon's Youth Football Training Camp at Harlem Middle School.
Photo by Jim Blaylock/Morris News Service
''I liked all the events,'' said Cody, who plans to play defensive tackle for the Harlem Middle School Bulldogs in the fall. ''I really like learning how to dive while trying to catch a ball.''
After the drills, participants and many parents enjoyed carnival games and food.
The mini-camp served as a fund-raiser for summer programs held by the Harlem Neighborhood Development Program, which operates a low-cost day-care, hosts
after-school programs and holds day camps during the summer.
Most of the day camps are sports oriented, but many include drama, art, cooking and sewing, and some are held at no cost.
''We're always looking for ways to be a positive force in the community,'' Harlem Neighborhood Development Program Director the Rev. Melvin Adams said. ''Youth are finding more and more ways to get into trouble these days and, eventually, someone has to do something. Well, we're trying to do something.''
Former San Diego Chargers running back Walter Dunson directed the mini-camp for the Falcons, and he also wanted the children to know the importance of working hard and staying out of trouble.
''What kind of grades do you make?'' Dunson asked one little boy before letting him start one of the drills.
''B's and A's,'' was the reply.
''No. You have to say A's and B's,'' Dunson responded. ''I want to hear the positive stuff first.''
Dunson began running the Falcon's mini-camps three months ago and said he often pulls certain youth to the side for individual counseling.
''A couple of guys here have what I call 'It,''' Dunson said. ''They have the raw talent to play this sport well. What I like to do is pull them off to the side and make sure they know it takes more than talent to make it in football. You have to be committed to the sport and to your education.
''Football is a great metaphor for life. If you want to be successful, you have to play by the rules. I want to encourage them to play by the rules.''
The Harlem Neighborhood Development Program next holds a fund-raiser on July 10 at Harlem Middle School in the form of a basketball tournament for teens ages 15-18. Another basketball tournament for ages 19-35 follows that one, but a date is still to be determined.
The summer program that runs through July 30 is open to children ages 4-12. Rates vary and a $10 per child registration fee is required. For more information, call 556-0209.