Boys & Girls Club board members watch as Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Damione Lewis, a Sulphur Springs High School graduate, autographs posters and a football during a meeting held Friday at the club to discuss plans for his free youth football camp, scheduled for April 19 from 9 a.m. to noon. B&GC board members pictured left to right are: Carolyn McKinney, Kerry Wright, Charles Dawson and Coy Johnson and executive director Monica Hasley.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Damione Lewis is coming home to put on a free football camp, but his real goal is teach boys how to better play The Game of Life

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

March 30, 2008 - Damione Lewis has a philosophy about life -- "Better yourself and take someone along with you." Some young people in Hopkins County will soon get to experience that firsthand.

Local boys ages 6-14 will have a chance to meet Lewis and other NFL stars in person during the inaugural Damione Lewis Football Camp on Saturday morning, April 19, sponsored by the Hopkins County Boys and Girls Club.

At 6-feet, 2-inches and 300 pounds, Lewis is a large man. As an NFL player, he's even larger than life.

The former Sulphur Springs Wildcat gridiron standout will begin his eighth NFL season after signing a three-year contract extension in the offseason as defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers. He was a blue chip prospect at Sulphur Springs High School in the mid 1990s and a first-round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams after starting for three years at the University of Miami.

The camp, his brainchild, is being coordinated locally by Kerry Wright.

"It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and I've just been waiting for the right time," said Lewis, who was back in his home town on Friday to shore up some of the details. "I've gotten to a place in my life where I'm settled and in a comfort situation where I feel like I can give back.

"The first thing I wanted to do in that process is to get something going around here. I want to help these kids get focused on life and back on track. There's so much more in their lives to look forward to than what they're dealing with today."

The camp is free -- that's right -- free, and participants don't have to be members of the Boys and Girls Club to attend. Registration forms, which need to be turned in by April 4, are at the Boys and Girls Club and Fieldhouse Sports.

By making the camp free, it will allow more youngsters to attend and be mentored by Lewis and up to a dozen other NFL players, including another former Wildcat, Caleb Miller, as well as Santana Moss, Bubba Franks, Jon Beason, Dante Rosario and perhaps Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Dan Morgan.

"The idea is to get as many young people out to the camp as possible so they can see people who have been successful in their careers, and to give them some hope," Wright said.

The players will teach campers fundamental instructions, proper nutrition and weight training. But the most important part will likely be the heartfelt talk they will receive on leadership, character and how to be true student-athletes on and off the field.

"I want it to go beyond football, but that's what I know -- that's what I do" Lewis said. "So it was a lot easier for me to bring that atmosphere in first and build on that.

"They need to understand that the person they are looking to was in the same position that are in, maybe worse. So it's possible for them to do what I did or go beyond and do something different."

Lewis isn't just talking about professional sports, either.

"It could be a doctor or lawyer or just a hard-working parent who provides for their family," he explained. "Find a comfort within yourself and try to better yourself. That's really the object of life -- go out and better your life and bring somebody along with you."

The Boys and Girls Club will hopefully benefit greatly from the camp, because organizers have set a goal to raise $100,000 in donations from local businesses. In return for a $2,000 donation, business owners will receive access to a private mixer and dinner with the NFL players -- not a bad bonus for contributing to something worthwhile.

Businesses that would like to participate but have not been contacted can e-mail Wright at kwright@cpiaccess.com for details.

The Boys and Girls Club, located in the old Houston Elementary School building, has about 150 members. Approximately 60 percent are from single-parent homes.

Lewis wants the money generated from the camp to buy more computers for the facility and to start and expand a tutoring and mentoring program.

"In the future, I'd like to see retired teachers in here tutoring, volleyball and basketball, just a full-service Boys and Girls Club, where they can come over here and get on-line, do their homework and be more of an area that's a positive place for them to be," he said. "I'd like to see businessmen come in and talk to them and mentor them -- that's what I'd like to see."

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