Kids tackle Ravens camp


As Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens grunt and sweat their way through summer training camp at McDaniel College, shrieks and giggles reached the sidelines - not from the players, but from a boisterous bunch of younger fans who aren't even watching the pros practice.

While hundreds are glued to the action on the college field, many youngsters tow their parents down a beaten path to "Ravenstown," a fenced-in compound filled with inflatable games and concession stands.

Zack Shaffer, 5, could hardly contain his excitement one day last week as he tugged on his tennis shoes after bouncing on an inflatable trampoline.

"I jumped up 40 feet," he said.

Practically lost in an oversized red T-shirt, Zack was one of about 30 kids who plainly preferred playing their own games behind Ravenstown's picket fence to watching the team work on its game.

The kids could race through an obstacle course, practice punting a football and even test their passing accuracy by throwing at a target.

There are some fan-builder gimmicks as well, such as a booth asking kids to pick their favorite players, tables with player statistics and even purple paper to use for seeking player autographs.

Activities for kids have been a staple at the Ravens training camp for years, but this summer the play was consolidated, said Mary Jo Colbert, the director of conference and auxiliary services for McDaniel College.

Many parents seem appreciative of the change, saying it makes it easier for them to keep an eye on their children as they try to follow the practice.

"It seems like it's set up nicer, it's more organized and more contained," said Sandy Cheatham, 41, who brought her daughter, Allison, 10, and her son, Tyler, 13. Cheatham said her Westminster family has been attending the training camp since it began 10 years ago.

"It's close by and gives the kids something to do; it's a nice break," she said.

"I think it's good clean fun for the kids and good support for the team," added Patricia Knight, Cheatham's sister-in-law, as her son, Alec, 11, raced to the back of the line to punt the football again. "He'd come every day if I'd let him."

While their children romped amid a sea of purple jerseys and Ravens hats, Cheatham and Knight sought shelter under a football-shaped canopy offering some protection from the withering sun and heat.

Sipping bottled water, they said they planned to take their children to the field when the Ravens' scrimmage ended to get autographs.

The obstacle course was the main attraction for Brittany Ripple, 21, of Perry Hall, who brought her two cousins, Brenton, 14, and Braedon, 12, to the training camp.

"You get to jump and catch and run, and go into tackles," Braedon said. "It's fun."

The Ravenstown games and activities also draw summer camp groups to Westminster - including the Boys and Girls Club from Severn.

Rhonda Brunson brought her 12-year-old daughter, Denae, with the group. Brunson said she liked the new play area arrangement.

"It really seems like they want to do something for the kids," she said, watching her daughter grip a rope to climb to the top of an inflatable slide.

As the morning's practice ended, children and their parents raced from Ravenstown to line up for autographs, with players inking their names on the backs of the Boys and Girls club camp T-shirts.

Wide-eyed, 7-year-old Max Rogers waited for his chance to rush onto the field to get his football signed.

"He's been enjoying it very much," said his mother, Nadine Rogers. "It's great because this way the little guys get to see the players."

To see the Ravens

Ravens training camp is held at McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster. All training camp visitors are asked to park near Bair Stadium. Practice times vary each day, and sessions may be canceled or moved because of weather. Call 410-261-RAVE (7283) to confirm daily practice schedules.

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