High School Sports

Eclectic United Nations Sport & Social Impact Summit 'joins people' through competition

MANATEE -- No matter the venue or the sport or the number of participants, the mission remained the same.

"To have football or sport in general, no matter what side you're on, what country you're from, whatever your belief system is, whatever your politics are, it joins people," said former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell.

Brunell, who led football clinics at IMG Academy on Saturday, was referring to what the United Nations Sport & Social Impact Summit's public sports festival can do to bring kids from various backgrounds together through sports. The festival, which continues Sunday, wraps up the summit's weeklong visit to Manatee County.

The public festival began Saturday at IMG, the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus and the Miracle League Field in North Sarasota. Various sports were spotlighted with demonstrations, clinics or panel discussions.

At the first football clinic held Saturday morning at IMG Academy, nine kids from across Florida and other states arrived for the free instruction.

Before taking the field, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Lee Paige generated this biggest laugh in IMG's expansive home locker room inside the Ascenders' Field House.

Paige told the youth football players that he suffered the biggest football injury when Ray Perkins took over the Bucs in the late 1980s.

He asked the group what they thought it was, and they each shouted, "A concussion."

Paige replied, "No. I got my feelings hurt."

Laughter ensued from the coaching ensemble and kids, with Paige following up with an explanation that the reason his feelings were hurt was because he was told he couldn't play in the NFL anymore.

The example was a reminder of what Paige and local football legend, Florida Sports Hall of Famer Henry Lawrence, tried to get across before they took the field: Having a back-up plan is essential.

But the former three-time Super Bowl champion found just one minor issue with the public sports festival, and that was the absence of Manatee County kids.

"The local schools," Lawrence said, "should've been pounded on to be aware of this. Because a lot of people are just not aware. ... Right now, that's the only shortcoming."

Aside from that, Lawrence said the summit was great to have here.

"I participated Monday night and listened to some of the panel discussions," Lawrence said. "A lot of the things I heard up there, I could relate to. ... I think it's the makings of a great thing."

Brunell said the aim of the football clinic was to teach fundamentals and act as an introduction to the sport for those arriving from other parts of the world.

"I learned more life lessons in this sport than I did anywhere else," Brunell said, "just by playing this sport. Teamwork, work ethic, overcoming adversity, all of that stuff, that's what football did for me."

In contrast to the morning football clinic, there were several people who arrived in Ellenton to see Olympic sled hockey players and Olympic figure skaters as well as a hockey demonstration from the reigning state champion Manatee County high school team.

"This event is unique because (Saturday) morning we met a bunch of kids from many different countries ... and they never skated before," said Mark Ladwig, who trains in Ellenton and competed in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics in the pairs competition. "So I was able to show them how to skate and take them out on the ice. It's like their first steps all over again. ... But to be that positive force and help them grow a little bit is good."