In an effort to strengthen relationships with the younger football community, the Green Bay Packers opened Ray Nitschke Field recently to several little league football teams in the Green Bay area.
On the same field where Brett Favre, Ahman Green, Darren Sharper and Nick Barnett install the plans for each week's upcoming game, many young football players had the chance of a lifetime, playing real games on the Packers' newly restored practice field.
"It's special to come and play where NFL players play," Packers executive vice president/COO John Jones said. "That's something that as a young football player, it brings a little more special meaning to your regular games."
The Packers' practice field, which formerly featured a natural grass surface, is now comprised of FieldTurf, a more durable surface which will allow the team to use the field later in the season when natural grass fields typically are frozen.
The durability of the FieldTurf also makes it possible for the Packers to host other football-related events, such as coaching clinics and youth football initiatives, including the Pop Warner league football games.
"When Mike Sherman and I first started talking about creating a field turf surface where our team could play outside, it was an idea that came up very early in conversations," Jones said. "We thought it could be a community football development opportunity for our Pop Warner teams. This is the first year we're doing it and we're seeing how it works and seeing how the teams like it and so far, we've heard great comments and the kids are having fun."
The Packers hope to expand the availability of the new field to reach young football teams across the state.
"We have some other initiatives where we can expand through relationships that we have, both with NFL youth football development and through the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association," Jones said. "Our goal is to help the growth of youth football, not only in Green Bay, but once we feel like we've taken the first steps here, we can begin to look further out around our state and find some ways to help the young people playing Pop Warner level football all over Wisconsin."
And who knows, maybe one day, one of these Pop Warner players may return to this very field, only next time they could be wearing the Green and Gold.
"These kids are the next generation of football players," Jones said. "They may or may not turn out to be Division I or junior college or even professional football players, but they're a part of the game at a very young age and it's that continuity that the Packers are helping the Pop Warner leagues with in keeping young people in the game.
"If you're a little football player and you can come to a field named for a hall of fame Packer, one of the greatest Packers of all time, and you can play on that field with your buddies and have fun, that's a great Saturday in any little guy's life, and as time goes on we're just going to keep expanding that circle all the way around the state of Wisconsin."