June 25, 2014
By Steve Lewis
The University of Connecticut football team played host to its first annual Women's Football 101 Clinic on Wednesday evening in the Burton Family Football Complex and the Mark R. Shenkman Training Center. The event sold out at 200 participants with all proceeds donated to the UConn Health Center.
The clinic was planned and coordinated by first-year head coach Bob Diaco and his entire coaching and administrative staff.
Women of various ages took to the field and classrooms, learning the game of football from Husky coaches and players in the two-and-a-half hour session.
Diaco said the idea for this type of clinic came from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly while the duo were coaching together at Central Michigan. The Husky head coach stressed the event's importance for the continuing success of the game of football.
"What's very important for our staff as participation declines in the country for young people as it relates to youth football, we want to get to these moms, aunts, neighbors, grandmothers and guardians and show them how safe we teach football: striking angles, blocking, tackling," said Diaco.
Upon entering the Burton Complex, participants were met by enthusiastic staff at the registration tables who handed out UConn lanyards, t-shirts and the players' own personal credential, which designated them to a certain team for the night. UConn football graduate assistants lined the entrance of the building, cheering and high-fiving participants as they entered, adding extra excitement to the festivities.
As the long line of female players eagerly waited outside to start their practice session, many expressed their pride in UConn football and their interest in seeing how the team trains on a daily basis
"We were looking to have a good time and a fun ladies' night out," said Donna Naparstek of Collinsville, Conn.
Fellow participant and Collinsville native, Wendy Corman, added, "We just wanted to have a good time, learn about football, and hope we don't hurt ourselves and we can go to work tomorrow."
When asked how she heard about the event, New Haven resident Mary Leapley had her husband to thank. "My husband reads all the UConn blogs and he's obsessed with everything UConn. He sent it to me and said you have to go to this, so we're here."
"We love UConn football, so we had to come. We couldn't miss it," said Leapley's companion, Kristin Millspaugh of Wallingford.
UConn President Susan Herbst was in attendance as a participant herself and she was very pleased with the maximum turnout for the event.
"There were more people who wanted to get in and a lot of men wanted to come. They had to be turned away," said Herbst. Herbst added, "Here in the crowd we have faculty, staff, students, alumni, fans, we have a lot of moms of players, so it's a tremendous mix of people."
A social hour took place prior to football activities, where UConn coaches interacted with participants in the Burton lobby and hallways, sharing some good laughs with their soon-to-be players.
Diaco walked around, taking pictures with fans and warmly greeting them to the football facility "It's so great and it's so energizing to be around people that are on fire for UConn Husky football," said Diaco before practice started. "You can tell, the people came here ready to work. You can see they are in athletic clothes and they're ready to do some field work so it's going to be fun."
Participants were divided into eight teams and the clinic was broken up into eight stations. Every 10 to 15 minutes, the teams would rotate to the next station, allowing them to see football from all angles.
Four on-field stations and four meeting room stations were staffed by UConn coaches and other professionals, giving participants the opportunity to see a typical day for student-athletes. The four on-field stations gave participants a lesson in kicking field goals, throwing and catching passes, running through an obstacle course, and tackling. UConn coaches and players motivated participants while teaching them the fundamentals of the game.
Off of the field, participants got the chance to sit in on offensive and defensive strategy sessions, with UConn coordinators running them through basic football knowledge.
The athletic training room allowed teams to learn about player health and nutrition from head athletic trainer Bob Howard and sports nutritionist Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, while the weight room gave them a chance to see UConn players lifting weights and doing various other exercises with strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis.
The first Women's 101 Clinic was a big success and fun for all participants who wanted an inside look at the workings of UConn football.
Herbst praised Diaco for his introduction of this event to the football program. "Bob is such a natural marketer, advocate, and champion for football. He kind of does it on his own," said the UConn President. "He has a hundred ideas of ways to improve the fan experience and I think this is one of them. He's like an idea machine."