For the fourth consecutive year, T.Y. Hilton held his football Pro Camp for kids grades 1-8 at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis on Thursday and Friday.
And for the fourth consecutive year, it was hard to tell who was having more fun.
“I think we both are,” he said. “It’s important for me just to go out there and have fun with them, teach them a couple things.”
It’s something the Colts wide receiver got to do himself growing up in Miami.
“Chad Johnson, Brett Perriman, they all did it for me,” he said. “Just meeting them and going out there and playing, having fun with my friends. It was special, something that always stuck with me.”
Now, he’s the one headlining the camp.
“I always want to pay it forward. I’ll never forget where I came from, especially with these kids,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. Now a days, just watching the kids grow up, they need that special thing in their life. I just want to be a part of that special moment in their life.”
Over two days, he made countless memories with the kids, mostly by just being there and being himself.
“The smile, they’re running around, hitting me on my back, catching passes in front of me, I think that’s a special thing for them – just catching passes from me and me giving them high fives.”
“Just being around a professional athlete, especially one as engaging as T.Y., is just an unbelievable experience regardless of what their age is,” said Coach Scott Dattilo. “Even for me at 47, it’s cool. So, I can only imagine for a 7, 8, 9 year old, what’s going through their minds.”
Dattilo teaches and coaches football at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati and spends some of his downtime in the summer months with Pro Camps.
“I’ve worked a lot of these camps and I have never seen someone back to back days, go from 9:00 until 12:30 giving everything he could for you guys. And that is special,” he told the campers.
“We all know T.Y. as a football player. We watch number 13 run around on Sundays and Monday nights all the time and we know how talented and how good he is as a player. What you learned in the last two days is way more important than that,” he said. “What you saw in these two days is a guy who not only can play football, but a guy who cares about you guys. I hope you guys remember these two days for the rest of your lives.”
McKenzie Hacker certainly will. A Camper of the Day nominee, she walked away with a prized possession at the end of camp.
“I always do this every year, I always come with a bucket hat,” said Hilton. “I always give it away. And the person that gets this is my favorite, McKenzie.”
Afterwards, Hacker’s mom, Jan, came up to thank him in person.
“I thanked him for helping young girls feel strong and powerful and confident and encouraging them to do their very, very best. I feel that’s so important,” she said. “To see him do what he does, it’s amazing and I really appreciate it.”
McKenzie wasn’t the only girl recognized at Hilton’s camp. Audrey Hendrickson won the Garth Brooks Foundation Teammates Award.
“This goes to the best teammate of the camp,” Dattilo said. “Coach says she is as tough as the boys.”
Hacker loved seeing two girls receive honors from Hilton and his coaches.
“I like even better, the fact that the girls went out there and competed with the boys and earned those honors themselves,” she said. “And the fact that he encourages all the kids is absolutely awesome.”
Another guy with a passion for kids and sports is country star Garth Brooks, who sponsors the teammates award at every camp Pro Camps puts on.
“He knows he can’t do it alone,” said Andy Danner with Pro Camps. “That’s why he looks for guys like T.Y., with that type of energy, to become a teammate. And that’s how they come together.”
As an entertainer, Garth Brooks knows the value of teamwork.
So does T.Y. Hilton.
They know that no matter what these kids do in life, they’re going to be part of a team. And the better the teammate, the farther they’ll go – and the more people they’ll take with them along the way.
T.Y. Hilton made it to the top of his game.
Now, he wants to help these kids do the same.