EAST CHICAGO — Midway through Kawann Short’s annual youth STEM and football camp, he ran a fade route to the end zone and snagged a touchdown pass.
The dazzling catch made his camp participants erupt in cheers as the E.C. Central graduate and NFL defensive tackle celebrated the play.
Saturday marked the fourth consecutive year that Short held a camp at his alma mater and for those five hours he wasn’t worried about offseason training or going over defensive schemes.
His main focus was giving back to his hometown and reminding each kid that they have the opportunity to be successful athletically and academically.
“We put STEM (activities) into the camp probably two years ago,” said Short, who has spent his entire NFL career with the Carolina Panthers. “It was the mentality of what I’ve done to get to where I am now. Education is a big part. Without that you can’t succeed, you can’t achieve what you want to achieve as far as sports, being a doctor, a lawyer or whatever the case may be.”
The six-year NFL veteran’s free camp came just one week after fellow E.C. Central alumnus and NBA guard E’Twaun Moore held his annual camp at their old high school.
Short and Moore led the Cardinals to the Class 4A basketball state championship in 2007 and have both been adamant about never forgetting their roots.
E.C. Central football coach Dante Dinkins played alongside Short and was glad to volunteer his time during the camp. He graduated with Short in 2008 and commended the two-time Pro Bowler for being a role model in East Chicago and inspiring countless Region kids to continue pursuing their dreams.
“We grew up under the fashion that if you go away and go off to college, come back and help that next person,” Dinkins said. “Those little opportunities to see people who have had successful careers go out and come back to the community, that’s what makes it worth it. We love our city.”
Dinkins said he saw a bit of talent on the field Saturday and hopes that in a few years he can help some of those kids earn a college scholarship. While he was outside directing half of the camp attendees through football drills, the other campers were inside being encouraged to think of professions outside of sports.
There were several tables lined up around the Cardinals’ main gym, and at one of them the kids were able to play with electronic bracelets that changed color depending on their movement. Harry Kennedy, the founder and CEO of HAK Electronics, guided all of the camp participants through this station, and it was clear that he got their attention.
The 28-year-old said similar technology can be used to track an athlete’s movement in football and explained that his simple demonstration was just one example of a multitude of sports-related careers in the STEM field.
“Sporting teams are trying to figure out how they can capture and analyze this as much as possible,” Kennedy said. “Overall, this (bracelet) is to help the students understand how to work with data, how to work with their hands, while showcasing that they can also be an engineer and build these types of things, too.”
In addition to the STEM stations, there was also a table put together by the Community Healthcare System, which includes Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.
Gretchen Bray has worked for CHS for nearly 23 years and said she truly enjoyed being a part of Short’s camp. She understands that most of the kids have dreamed of being professional athletes, but Bray reminded them that there is no shame in taking a different route.
She and a few other CHS employees helped the kids dress up in scrubs, lab coats and suit jackets to show them that being a healthcare professional could lead to a rewarding future as well.
“I think it’s very important,” said Bray, who is a credentialing specialist. “One of the young men, when he had on the jacket he kept saying to himself, ‘I’m a CEO! I’m a CEO!’ and I just loved that. We’re just planting the seeds in their heads that yes, you can be a CEO. You can be a nurse. You can be whatever it is you want to be.”
Throughout the camp, Short posed for numerous pictures and joked with several kids as they made their way around the field and gymnasium. From his perspective, coming home and empowering the youth is the least he could for the city that helped mold him.
“This is year four, and I want to keep going until I die, and be able to give back to East Chicago,” said Short, who was inducted into the E.C. Central Hall of Fame in 2013. “I have a good group of guys, who come back every year for me and help me put on this amazing camp. I hope it lives on forever, even after I pass away.”