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Youth Summit trip quite an experience for Riggs

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
As involved as T.R. Miller Tigers coach Jamie Riggs has been with the game of football over the years as a fan, a player, an assistant coach and head coach, one might be surprised to find out he had never been to the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton (Oh.) until last weekend's NFL Youth Summit.
"It was a wonderful experience. Part of the experience was getting to go through the Hall of Fame. When I was looking at the busts and plaques of the inductees, it brought back a lot of memories. I watched a lot of those players growing up. There is a lot of memorabilia such as old uniforms and equipment. It's really mind boggling when you compare what they wore years ago as compared to today," Riggs said.
The tour through the Hall of Fame was just a small part of Riggs' experience. The real purpose was to meet and get feedback from coaches and other football personnel from across the country.
Only one high school coach from each state and the District of Columbia are selected to attend the annual summit. Riggs was selected to represent Alabama.
"Most of the coaches came from a lot bigger schools than T.R. Miller. A big part behind the summit is the NFL is trying to revive football within the big cities. A lot of big city schools have lost their youth programs and the NFL is trying to help bring some of that back. Getting selected to the program was a big deal anyway, but not many came from small, rural schools like me," Riggs said.
Riggs said coaches exchanged feedback on various issues.
"We're all in the same business, coaching football and dealing with kids. Even though when you go up there and don't know anybody, it doesn't take long for people to get on the same page," Riggs said. "We did a lot of comparing schools and how they're run. We talked about what some schools do during the summer and offseason conditioning. We also came across some rules differences. One of the more interesting things I discovered from a coach in North Dakota is they play eight-on-eight in that state, not 11-on-11."
In addition to United States high school coaches, foreign coaches and other youth organization coaches were also present.
"They had coaches from places like Japan, France and Mexico. I got to talk to the Japan coach a little bit. His team practices every day at 6 a.m. They have to go early because they don't start school until 9 a.m. and they don't get out until about 5 p.m. As a whole, it sounds like football is really catching on in some of those countries," Riggs said. "They also had coaches from groups like recreation departments and Pop Warner leagues."
Riggs said another phase of the program had to deal with health and training issues.
"We had a good segment in dealing with heat related issues. That's a problem a lot of coaches, even in the northern states, have to deal with during the early part of the season. We also had segments that dealt with weightlifting and dealing with injuries," Riggs said.
The program contained various guest speakers such as NFL Hall of Famers Gale Sayers and Art Shell along with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
"Between them and all the coaches and all the other guest speakers, we probably covered just about every issue there seemingly is to cover," Riggs said.
One downfall to the trip is Riggs had to leave prior to Sunday's induction ceremony of Barry Sanders, John Elway, Carl Eller and Bob Brown and Monday's Hall of Fame Game between Washington and Denver.
"The induction ceremony is sold out something like a year and a half in advance. I could have gotten a ticket for the Hall of Fame game, but like most coaches, I had to get back to school and practice. There were a few who hadn't started school or practice yet and they stayed, but that is something I had to miss. Other than that, it was a tremendous experience," Riggs said.