Ryan Mayer

Summer football camps have become a big part of the sport’s youth culture over the years, with many NFL athletes and some colleges hosting their own camps for kids to come out, learn the game, and meet some players. However, many of these camps are done on a for-profit basis, meaning that kids whose parents aren’t fortunate enough to be able to pay to send them to camp end up missing out. In the Los Angeles area, however, there’s one camp that parents can turn to that is free of charge.

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The Donald Penn Foundation, along with Donald Penn and the Dominique Penn Cheer Camp are once again hosting their free, one-day youth football and cheer camp for local children between the ages of 4-16. The camp is being held on June 3 at El Camino College in Torrance, CA and will give boys and girls the chance to interact with several NFL players and cheerleaders from pro teams. The camp’s free admission comes from a personal place for the Raiders offensive tackle, because he remembers all his parents had to do in order to send him to camps growing up.

“Growing up, there were never any camps like that. My mom and dad would work their butts off, work overtime, in order to get money to pay to send me to camps,” said Penn in a phone interview on Thursday. “So, I always said to myself growing up that if I ever got in a position to put on a camp, I would do it for free and bring some of my friends and NFL guys out so that kids could meet them, and also do it on one day so that we could get all the fun wrapped up into one day. I wanted to make it free for all the less fortunate kids that are out there that can’t afford to pay to go to other camps.”

The other unique aspect, as you may have noticed, is that the camp features an opportunity for young girls to get involved as well by offering a cheer camp that complements the football camp. The idea originated with Penn’s wife, Dominique, realizing that she just hadn’t seen much in the way of free camps available for young girls to participate in.

“You do have some girls that are one out of the bunch that will go and participate in those football camps,” said Dominique via phone. “But, there’s nothing really out there for the arts like dance and cheer, that holds a free camp for little girls. I definitely wanted to conjure up something and bring that back to the inner-city because I just feel like it hasn’t been done.”

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“I’m so glad that my wife brought that up and brought it to my attention because, we didn’t really have anything for the girls when I first started doing the camp,” said Penn. “The one thing I make sure to tell the kids is make sure you’re respectful when the girls come and do their cheers and they’ve been very respectful. It’s a great thing, and I’m just very proud of my wife and very thankful that she came up with that idea.”

The camp features plenty of football drills and the cheer camp teaches a full routine, but there’s also fun to be had as well. Last year, Penn and his wife brought out a DJ to play music throughout the course of the day to keep the kids moving and having fun and they also put together relay races, tug-of-war, and other events to have fun as the day winds down. The biggest thing that Penn has been happy to see is the embrace of his fellow players, because that, he says, is the thing kids enjoy the most: meeting the players.

“The biggest thing is, I’m just happy that my friends and my teammates and other players around the league take the time out to come out,” said Penn. “The kids like to meet the players. All the football stuff is fun and games, but at the end of the day, they want to meet the players so I try and get as many guys out there as possible.”

As for Dominique, one of her biggest goals for the cheer camp is to hopefully instill some self-confidence in the young girls. After spending most of the day learning a dance routine and various cheers, the girls get the opportunity to perform those routines for the boys attending the football camp at the end of the day. As Dominique says, that can be hard for young girls, but she hopes that it will bump up their confidence.

“Initially I just hope that, from the girls perspective, I can provide some form of self-confidence,” said Dominique. “It’s hard to get out there and do a cheer and have all these guys sit down and watch while you perform your dance routines and things like that. So, I’m hoping that that helps them build self-confidence and to show these young girls that you can do whatever that you want to do and meet some cool people at the same time.”

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This is the sixth year that Penn has run the football camp and it will be the third for the accompanying cheer camp. The 2017 Donald Penn Football and Dominique Penn Cheer Camp will take place on Saturday, June 3, on the campus of El Camino College. For more information, or to register for the camp, head to their website here.