Bringing the Draft to Balduck: BCBSM, Detroit Football Legends Host Free Football Camp for Kids in Eastside Detroit

Jake Newby

| 4 min read

More than 500 kids brought their game faces to the recently restored Balduck Park on Saturday for a massive free football camp in eastside Detroit. 
Hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and its community partners, Saturday was all about “bringing the draft to Balduck Park.” Later this week, Detroit hosts the draft – annually one of the most anticipated dates on the NFL calendar – for the first time in city history.
“We’ve been working on this day for a year and a half,” said BCBSM Vice President and Special Assistant to the President for Community Relations, Ken Hayward. “When it was announced that the draft was coming to Detroit, we knew the neighborhood wouldn’t have easy access to the draft, so we wanted to bring the experience to them, at Balduck.”
Whistle blows, airhorn signals and yards upon yards of laughter and frenzied excitement served as Saturday’s soundtrack. The chilly, 40-degree football weather cultivated more of a mid-November vibe than a mid-April one. Dozens of drill stations canvassed the spacious Balduck Park fields, the same fields BCBSM President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel J. Loepp sledded through as a child. At each station, kids learned basic football drills in a relaxed environment from Eagle Sports Club coaches and Detroit legends like Corey Schlesinger and Lomas Brown.
“If you pour into these kids, and you invest time into them, one day, one of them might come back and thank you for what you did for them,” said Brown, a former all-time great offensive tackle. “You never know what an encouraging word might do. You never know what a pat on the back might do for a kid. Any time I’m around kids I try to be encouraging to them because guess what? They’re going to be our future leaders around here.”
Nate Schwarze is the sports director at Eagle Sports Club, which was founded in 1999 to serve families on the East Side of Detroit by building relationships through sports. Schwarze coaches camps of this size pretty often, but he said Saturday served as a standout event. He wasn’t there to mold the next Barry Sanders, but rather give the kids of eastside Detroit a place to let loose, break a sweat and have some fun. 
“I’m looking just to see the kids smile,” Schwarze said, during a break in the action. “To have a good time, for the parents to enjoy themselves, everyone to have some food and just have fun. That’s what brings me joy is seeing these kids and families enjoy themselves.”
The NFL draft will take over downtown Detroit between April 25-27 across Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza. Football fans from all over the country will fly in to attend not only the live event, but the many ancillary festivities the city has planned. Not everyone from Detroit will be able to attend, making Saturday’s camp a special draft-adjacent event that transferred some of the buzz and electricity over to Detroit’s east side.
“The draft is expensive, it costs an arm and a leg to get downtown, and the families we serve here in this neighborhood, they’re probably not going to have the chance to go downtown,” Schwarze said. “So, to bring it here to Balduck and give the kids a chance to meet some former Lions players and do some drills I think is a really cool thing and a great way to bless some families.”
BCBSM adopted the Balduck Park neighborhood through the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) in 2019. The Balduck Park project resulted in $1.5 million in improvements courtesy of SNF funding and President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Act. The park’s infrastructure has been enhanced with brand new walkways, planted trees, new landscaping and a picnic shelter and dog park. The playground was also expanded, and crucial infrastructure improvements were made to address chronic flooding issues. These upgrades made fun-filled, community-building days like Saturday possible. 
“Today totally fits our mission of getting kids out, being healthy, getting them not only to exercise but learn great habits about teamwork and discipline that they will hopefully keep with them for the rest of their lives,” Hayward said. “We’ve embraced this community, and we were really excited about bringing the draft to Balduck.”
Photo credit: BCBSM
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