Friday | April 17, 2015
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NFL hits Big Isle

Hundreds of Big Island students got to meet a handful of NFL cheerleaders and current and former players Tuesday afternoon.

From cheers and screams to sheer giddiness at the thought of meeting a Superbowl ring holder or even a Denver Broncos cheerleader, middle and high school students from as far east as Paauilo and south as Konawaena enjoyed the youth clinic put on by the Nat Moore Foundation at Kealakehe High School.

One of those students, Kaipo Amina, a seventh-grader at Waimea Middle School, described taking part in drills with Nat Moore, a former Miami Dolphins wide receiver, as fun and exciting. The aspiring fullback-linebacker said he also learned how he can realize his dream of playing professional football.

“If you can’t get into college, you can’t get into the NFL,” he said. “I know how to get there now.”

More than 300 students from a variety of West Hawaii schools, including private, home and charter schools, took part in the Nat Moore Foundation-sponsored event.

Among the football players were Moore, former Seattle Seahawks running back Fred McCrary, current San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis and unsigned free agent guard Vince Manuwai. Also present were Denver Broncos cheerleader Heather Hartman, Arizona Cardinals cheerleader Chelsey Davis and Miami Dolphins cheerleader Samantha Ruiz.

The Nat Moore Foundation, launched in 1998, has a mission of “helping kids help themselves.” It does this through annual grants to community-based organizations, scholarships for high school seniors, matching grants to assist with transportation costs for youth sports programs and direct service in collaboration with community partners to help support academic and physical success of youth.

To date, the foundation has provided more than $2 million to various youth and social service organizations. It also hosts clinics and assemblies for kids, including numerous events throughout the state in the week leading up to the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Sunday.

“We were kids once and people made a big impact helping us get on the straight,” said Moore. “We didn’t just get ourselves here, and this is a way to give back.”

Moore also noted the increase in NFL players who hail from Hawaii, letting the youngsters know it is possible to make it big despite growing up on a remote island. He said the increase is likely attributed to local schools learning more about the game’s idiosyncrasies and techniques.

“Many years ago, you didn’t see guys from the state of Hawaii playing in the National Football League,” he said. “Now, that’s all you see.”

The event was brought to Hawaii more than a decade ago when Mayor Billy Kenoi was an executive assistant to former Mayor Harry Kim and part of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Hawaii Host Committee. According to the county, Kenoi played an instrumental role in bringing the clinics to the outer islands after seeing their impact on Oahu students. The Hawaii County Mayor’s Office helps stage the annual event.

Now in the 11th year coming to Hawaii Island, the NFL Pro Bowl Youth Clinics give students a chance to take part in a variety of hands-on drills with pros; participants also get a Pro Bowl T-shirt autographed by each of the NFL players and a sling backpack. If transportation is needed, the foundation ensures students have a free ride.

Major components of the event are teaching fundamental skills and teamwork. The organization also emphasizes the importance of doing well in school.