YOUNGSTOWN - One of the many reasons I give thanks to my parents is for their sacrifice to send me to Cardinal Mooney.
The values that school instilled in me are among the ones I apply to my everyday life. Discipline, faith, and the commitment to exceed, redefine, and again exceed your limitations are universal, but at Mooney, they're instilled in you through every facet of the curriculum.
Now, the school offers a way to extend those lessons to the entire community. For 11 years, Camp of Champions has been a place for young football players to learn from some of Mooney's distinguished alumni in the game.
The camp has now grown into a bright focal point for people from all areas of the Mahoning Valley to contribute to the community.
"One of the great things about this camp has always been that people from Mooney want to come back and donate their time to this," Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said. "But as the years went on, more and more people offered to help, and it's really grown to where people from not only Mooney want to contribute. That says a lot about this camp and the entire area."
Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, one of the camp's speakers, has been attracted to the camp because of its growing appeal to the entire Valley.
"I've come to realize that everybody in Northeast Ohio has so much in common - especially with football," Kosar said. "I went to Boardman, and we had great games with Mooney, but I love coming here and talking to these kids and helping this camp. It's really become such a great place for everyone from the Mahoning Valley to come and give back to the area."
Youngstown State University linebackers coach Ron Stoops is one of the camp's founders, and is happy to see his vision expand.
"This was the idea - to not only contribute to Cardinal Mooney, but also to the community," he said. "So, I'm very happy to see so many different people come here and really share in how we wanted it to be."
Another one of the camp's founding members, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, was back again this year, and was also happy to see how it has grown.
"It definitely looks like it's grown a little bit this year," he said. "Cardinal Mooney, and this area, is such a big part of who I am, and it's left an impression on so many people, that it's important to do what you can to take care of it."
No matter how expansive in scope the camp has become, Mooney's values have always driven it.
"We really want to instill the same philosophy we have here," Mooney assistant coach Brendan McCloud said. "Hard work, discipline, and dedication are very important, but we also want these kids to enjoy coming out here and playing football."
Mooney assistant Chris Amil praised all of the camp's instructors, but maintained that Mooney and the effect he said it has on people's lives is still the driving force.
"It is wonderful to see so many people with so many backgrounds here helping - there can't be a better high school camp in the country, and one of the reasons is its diversity," he said. "But I have to give the most credit to Bo (Pelini), the Stoops brothers, and the others who got this started. This is such a special place, and this camp is a great example of this."
Yet another of the camp's founders, Florida State defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, was also on hand to instruct the young players.
"It's really amazing to see how this camp has grown from just an idea to what it is now," he said. "It started off well, and kept getting bigger, but it just keeps getting better and more educational, and we're most proud of that."
Fecko and Ron Stoops have helped expand the camp's reach into the community, but also the football instructional aspect, too.
This year, there's a blocking sled and more equipment to help campers refine their skills.
"As the years went on, we liked to add to the camp," Stoops said. "The game itself is evolving, and so are the players, so it's important to make sure they have the skills to compete."
"It's something we've always wanted to incorporate into the camp, and we just took more steps to do that this year," Fecko said. "Good technique also helps kids play the game safely, so we feel it's even more important to help them develop their skills even more."
Former Mooney quarterback Kyle McCarthy, who is now a safety with the Kansas City Chiefs, said the camp encapsulates a little bit of everything.
"Just like here at Mooney, you learn so much more than football," he said. "I learned things here off the field that's helped me in life and as a player, so if I can come here and make sure those values stay strong, then that's what I'm going to do."