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Fan-tastic Fest

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Connersville High School assistant coach Ron Paxton, left, gives chase to Micah Buchanan (10) in the middle school scrimmage at Fan Fest on Saturday. Coaches at all levels are very involved in the scrimmages played at the event.
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Cheerleaders Kiayah McKinney, left, and Arabella Crawfordoffer their support to youth football players on Spartan Field at Fan Fest on Saturday morning.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

For those in Connersville who play football on any level, Saturday’s activities inside the Connersville High School football stadium was all about them.

Beginning at daybreak, players of all ages assembled inside the stadium for some breakfast and fellowship, while at the same time getting themselves worked up and prepared for the morning ahead.

The high school team was first on the field, a 20-minute scrimmage giving fans a glimpse of what to expect for the 2019 prep campaign.

But those in the stands were interested in much more than what the high schoolers were there to offer.

Parents, siblings and friends were there to see football on all age levels, and that’s precisely what they got at the 2019 edition of Fan Fest.

The kids ranged all the way down to the kindergarten and first-graders, just one of the groups that high school head coach Adam Kelly was thrilled to see on the field.

“Our kindergarten and first grade team is playing flag this year, and they’re being coached by three varsity high school players — Evan Shafer, Brayden Pea and Adam Kelly, Jr.,” he said. “I think it is fantastic to watch those high school players working with those kids. It’s great to see the smiles on those young kids’ faces.

“They play keep-away, duck duck goose, and work on football, as well. It’s fun and exciting for me to see our older guys coaching the younger ones. The look on the faces of those kids as they run around and play with the high school kids, that’s really what this is all about.”

That group was on the field, just prior to the second-graders, kids who will be playing tackle football for the first time.

“We’ve got good numbers in the second-grade class, and that’s a really good group of kids,” coach Kelly said. “We’ve only had three or four practices with the younger kids, we only go twice a week. So, the organization is still coming around, and the playbook is still being worked in.”

While getting the plays and techniques on the field are important, Kelly points out that those aren’t the most important things, as the teams prepare for upcoming games.

“The biggest thing I am looking for is that the coaches are making those connections with the kids, and that the kids are making connections with other kids around them. Football just happens to be the thing that they are connecting around,” he said. “Hopefully, as they continue to grow, those positive experiences that they’re having now will excite them about playing football in the future.

“At every level, it’s about having fun, but for those really young kids, it’s very important that they have a good time.”

In addition to overseeing the entire day’s events, coach Kelly had his own team to worry about. Over all, he said he was pleased with what he saw.

“We did a lot of things right, but we’ve been working really hard this week, so you could tell that they were a little worn out,” he pointed out. “There was a pancake breakfast and pictures before they scrimmaged, so there was plenty going on prior to them taking the field. As such, the energy level wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be, but you could still see that we are continuing to grow in that offense.

“Defensively, we have some young guys that are stepping in and playing. We got some good reps from a lot of them as well this morning.

“We filmed the whole thing, so we will take a look at the film. That will tell us a lot more about how we did today.”

With the CHS opener less than two weeks away, getting into a game-time frame of mind becomes more and more important by the hour.

Kelly says his charges might actually be ahead of schedule on that score, however.

“I think the kids are really hungry right now. We have been practicing for a long time,” he said. “We really started getting to work in April, when we were given that time to get on the field. We were practicing once a week during that time frame. That means we’ve been practicing since April, not every day mind you, but fairly steady since then. 

“So the kids are really itching to get out there. Not that they’re tired of playing one another, or that they think they’re 100 percent ready to go, but the staff and players are excited to get on the field and get after it against another team.”

By the end of the day, Kelly said he was thrilled with how well the event was received and how well it ran.

“The event was fantastic. The Quarterback Club did a terrific job getting this organized,” he said. “There were so many volunteers, such as the Connersville Youth Football League board members, who were out here last night, setting everything up. 

“There was a lot that went into today. As a coach, it was a lot of preparation, but we had so many volunteers helping, that it allowed me to go out and do what I need to do on the field.

“At the end of the day, we want our program to have a positive impact on the people that participate in it, and we want them to be a part of that. We are going to great lengths to create and maintain that connections between all levels within the program.”

The Connersville High School team travels to Monrovia for its official scrimmage on Friday night. The regular season opens one week later, on Friday, Aug. 23, when the team travels to Richmond.