Rob Gronkowski with the children of Newtown. (Rich Gregory, CTPost.com)
On Dec. 14, 2012, America's collective heart was broken by the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., when twenty children and six staff members were killed. Six months later, as a community tries to put things back together as only they will know how ... well, sometimes, it's just about having fun outside and trying to forget for a while. Sometimes, it's just about being a kid. On Saturday, the New England Patriots helped more than 500 kids, ages 6 to 14, do just that at Newtown's Blue and Gold Stadium, when they held a "Football For You" camp.
"As a part of the New England community, I think all of us were devastated when we saw what happened here," Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Richard Gregory of CTPost.com, "and if it can happen in the town of Newtown, it could happen in any city or town in America."
Kraft had just been covering a child in a football drill as a defensive back, while Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski threw the child a pass. Kraft got his feet tangled up with the child's, which caused Gronkowski to call a pass interference penalty. Kraft and Gronkowski were two of over 30 members of the Patriots organization on hand for the clinic.
"I hope they leave here with a good experience," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "They've been through a lot these last couple months. It's the rebuilding process. They'll never be forgotten, but at the same time, these kids are very strong, their families are very strong, the parents out here in the stands are very strong. And hopefully we can come out here and provide a little temporary relief and some smiles."
Mayo has two children of his own. He talked about how the Newtown shooting just made him want to be closer to his own kids, and how he admired the strength of the Newtown community. Mayo also mentioned that such strength was similar to what he saw after the Boston Marathon bombings on Apr. 15.
"We saw it in Boston right after the horrible events on Patriots' Day, the same way the community came together."
At the end of the Clinic, Kraft presented Newtown Youth Football and Cheerleading president Sean Dunn with a Patriots jersey and tickets to one of this season's two games between the Patriots and AFC East rival New York Jets. Kraft made Dunn, who is a Jets fan, promise to wear the jersey when he attended the contest.
Newtown High football coach Steve George then gave Kraft a Nighthawks jersey.
"This is beyond anything I could've imagined," said Dunn. "What the Patriots have done is just fantastic."
Of course, football teams always have the game on their minds. Were there any future Patriots among the kids in attendance?
"We think so," Kraft said with a smile. "We had our scouts checking it out."
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