The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and Patriots safety Devin McCourty celebrated the chance to bring football to the local special needs community on Monday, Nov. 10, with a flag football event as part of the Foundation’s ongoing Celebrate Volunteerism initiative.
Smiles could be seen from every corner of the gymnasium inside the Invensys Foxboro branch of the Hockomock Area YMCA on Monday, Nov. 10, as the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation (NEPCF) and Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty participated in a series of flag football drills and a game of capture the flag with members of the YMCA’s Integration Initiative program.
McCourty led approximately 30 members of the Y’s Integration Initiative through a variety of football-themed stretches and drills before participating in a game of capture the flag. The Integration Initiative seeks to provide individuals with special needs an opportunity to participate with typically developing peers in the Y programs and activities.
Participants worked on passing, route running and catching the football. McCourty had some fun with the group, as he rotated from station to station and even playfully dropped back into coverage during a pass-catching drill.
“These kids had some good line-of-scrimmage moves, but I did a good job of not letting up the deep ball,” McCourty said with a laugh.
The Patriots safety had the group laughing along with him as he attempted to dodge and juke past the outstretched hands of those participating in capture the flag.
“It was fun,” McCourty said. “You can explain it in a bunch of ways, but honestly I just have fun. Competing and having fun with kids, I think they get into it more when they see you’re having fun and competing with them.”
Following capture the flag, McCourty spoke to the group about the importance of volunteering and enjoying the fun in sports, before signing footballs and Patriots t-shirts.
“I think it’s key when we go and talk to kids to tell them to have fun with each other,” McCourty said. “Just have fun playing together. Everything we do on the field; we love it because we go out on Sundays and we have fun playing together and winning together. When you lose, you lose together, too, so it’s important to teach these kids to be a close-knit group with each other.”
In turn, several of the participants presented McCourty with a flag football jersey and reminded him why football is important.
“I think these kids are always a reminder of the true passion for football,” McCourty said. “I think once you make it to the highest level of the NFL so much of it is business-like and you are playing with different guys each year, so I think coming here and seeing how much they just love to play football is a good reminder of why you started playing football.”
As part of the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, NEPCF recognizes one outstanding volunteer each week throughout the season for going above and beyond in their commitment to volunteerism. This individual is known as the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week.
During the event, McCourty recognized Mark Young, of Bridgewater, Mass., as the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for Special Needs Volunteerism.
Young, who suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side, began training with AccessSportAmerica to gain more function. He has since become a great windsurfer, paddler and tennis player and has re-learned to walk and run. His experience immediately inspired him to give back and help train others in the gym and on the courts. A skilled volunteer trainer, Young continues to inspire others to overcome disability as he did. His insight changed how AccessSportAmerica trains athletes and he has been instrumental in the development of the AccessSportAmerica gait training program, which helps people living with disabilities learn and re-learn to walk after injury.
The event was a great opportunity to support the Integration Initiative program while also giving McCourty the opportunity to share his love of the game.
“This was a great event,” said McCourty. “You guys know I love playing football and I love being out here with these kids playing, too.”