Three days removed from his first full-squad workout as a member of the Green Bay Packers, rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews found himself back on the field inside the Don Hutson Center surrounded by football players of a completely different kind on Saturday afternoon, May 30.
Matthews joined two teammates, longsnapper Brett Goode and defensive end Alfred Malone, for the second session of the 12th annual Junior Power Pack Clinic, an event that welcomes members of the Packers' official kids' fan club to participate in football drills that the team works through in practice each day.
"Obviously the athletes playing are a little different," Matthews said, smiling in recollection of his first community appearance as a member of the Packers. "But it's great to come out and be an ambassador for the team and interact with the kids and get to help out with the drills."
The event, organized by the Packers marketing department, was broken into two sessions and featured close to 950 total participants ages 5-14 from as nearby as Ashwaubenon and as far away as Alaska.
Tammi Johnson and her now-eligible 5-year-old son, Maddox, made the trek to Green Bay all the way from Las Vegas specifically to attend the event.
"My sister's kids have come, and the second I heard about this, I said, 'We're going,'" said Johnson, who also used the trip to visit her family in Oshkosh. "He's missing his pre-school graduation, and his last softball game, but it was more of him saying, 'I want to go see the Packers,' than anything else."
The participants ran through a series of drills that included catching passes, hitting blocking pads and running sprints with actual shoulder pads on. Johnson said the exercise element was an added bonus when she thought about the clinic from a parent's perspective.
"The exercise is awesome. I'm a therapist, too, and one of my biggest gripes is that kids are sitting in front of the television too much," she said. "With this, it's more than just screaming as a fan, it's get out there, get active, and then you might actually be able to do some of what they do."
Organizers agreed that the face-to-face interaction with the players, combined with the themes of activity and exercise, is important to club members. But they said the access to actual team facilities and equipment has also become a large part of the equation.
"In our surveys, we asked them what their favorite thing was about the clinic," said Jade Schiegg, a Packers marketing assistant and the event's lead planner. "Certainly Packers players are there, but a lot of people just love to be inside the Don Hutson Center. The general public doesn't usually get to come in there, so having access to places and people that they normally wouldn't is huge."
Maddox Johnson had a difficult time pinpointing his favorite part of the day as he stood wide-eyed next to his family, looking around the 112,400-square foot facility.
"Everything," was the response when asked what activity topped his list. "I liked all of it."
Traditionally held outdoors, the event was moved inside the Don Hutson Center this year, but that didn't diminish its popularity. In fact, many of the youngsters said they enjoyed getting to play football on the artificial surface in the expansive indoor facility, and a large contingent of parents appreciated the closer vicinity to the action.
With the rebuilt Nitschke Field having recently been re-sodded in preparation for next month's training camp, the decision was made to move it inside, which Schiegg said earned praise on several levels.
"We normally do have it outdoors, but as I said, people really liked having it inside the Hutson Center," she said. "I think they liked it more because they were able to be closer to where their kids were in a more contained environment. It takes away the rain element and we also didn't have to worry about kids overheating like we did in the past."
Schiegg said it remains undecided as to whether or not next year's event will be held indoors, but said the event will continue to improve regardless of the setting.
"A lot of people told us that this year was the most organized it has been," she said. "We hope we can make it even better next year and encourage kids to go online and become a part of it."
Fans within the appropriate age group can log on to http://www.packers.com/fan_zone/kids_zone/kids_club/ to sign up and become eligible to participate in next year's clinic.