Americus' Pope set for annual Kids Day; Bainbridge's Butler holds youth clinic today

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AMERICUS -- Leonard Pope came to make an announcement. James Butler is ready to teach some football.

But both have something in common this weekend: They're back in Southwest Georgia looking to make a difference.

Pope, an Americus native, former UGA star and current Kansas City Chief, visited his hometown hospital Friday -- Phoebe Sumter Medical Center (formerly known as Sumter Regional, where he was born) -- as he caught up with friends and announced a partnership with his C.H.A.M.P. foundation (Creating Hope And Making Progress) and the hospital for his upcoming Kids Day on June 26 in Americus.

"I remember a lot of faces from the times I have been here in the past," said Pope, who has been a staunch supporter of the hospital since it was destroyed by a tornado in 2007.

Butler, meanwhile, will be in Bainbridge today holding his 3rd annual Youth Football Camp and Clinic on behalf of his DREAM Foundation.

The date to register for Butler's camp was earlier this week, although it is a free clinic beginning at 9 a.m. at Centennial Field and lasting until 1 p.m. Butler invites many of his NFL friends each year, but at least one college player's attendance is confirmed: former Bainbridge star Nick Williams, who was listed as a preseason starter for UGA's football team at linebacker coming out of spring.

Butler told The Herald at last year's camp he hopes to "inspire area youth through football, which is why I started holding this camp."

A current St. Louis Rams starter, Butler, who played at Georgia Tech before going on to star in the NFL with the New York Giants -- winning the 2008 Super Bowl as a starter at safety in a massive upset of the then-undefeated New England Patriots -- held the first clinic that summer after the Giants won as part of the DREAM Foundation he founded.

The DREAM Foundation, according to its mission statement, provides programs focusing on mentoring, education and youth leadership. Butler's program also aims to raise awareness and funds for literacy, low-income families and healthy decision-making in the community.

Pope's goal, meanwhile, is to hold an event that gets kids active, while also benefitting the hospital that has meant to much to him.

"It is always good to come back and see friendly faces, and I am glad to see that plans for the new facility are on track," Pope said Friday.

While Pope's annual Kids Day is still a little more than a month away -- and will be held at the Sumter County Fairgrounds -- he came to town Friday because he wanted to get the word out about it ahead of time.

"The NFL has a program in place that stresses the importance of kids getting out of the house and getting active, and I wanted to use that as a basis for my annual Fun Day here in Americus," said Pope, who helped lead Americus High School to two state football titles before having an all-star career for UGA. "We will still have fun, but there will be a lot of activities for the kids to keep them moving and help them work up a sweat. The key is to keep them active and help turn the tide of childhood obesity that is a problem nationwide, but especially in the South."

Pope is currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs after being released by the Cardinals last year. Arizona drafted him out of college in the third round in 2006, and he started at tight end on the Cardinals' Super Bowl team in 2009 that lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Marcus Johnson, director of marketing and public relations at Phoebe Sumter, said Friday he was thrilled by the visit from Pope, adding he can't wait until late June.

"Phoebe Sumter Medical Center is excited to partner with Leonard to help fight childhood obesity and promote overall children's health," Johnson said. "Helping kids become more active will lead to healthier lifestyles down the road, and that is something that we all want to do because it will help the children live healthier and more productive lives.

"Phoebe Sumter will offer health screenings and other information during the event, and we hope that other organizations will join in as well."