How many grade schoolers would it take to defeat the University of Montana football team?
That answer may never be known, but one thing is certain: UM would have been vastly outnumbered during the fourth and final day of the 17th annual Little Grizzly football camp Thursday at the Sentinel High School football fields.
No, the Montana Grizzly football players did not compete against grade schoolers but nine of the 22 volunteer coaches are currently on the UM football roster, a number that pales in comparison to the 160 participants of the camp.
“You always use the phrase ‘The best ever’ but this is one of the best turnouts we’ve had,” said Bob Hermes, who runs the camp yearly with his brother, Matt. “The kids have really paid great attention. We have a lot of coaches, a lot of Grizzlies out here, so the kids love that.
“I wouldn’t have drawn it up any other way. It’s been perfect.”
The morning session was comprised of 85 second- to fifth-graders while the afternoon welcomed 75 in sixth to eighth grades, giving the campers an age range of 7-13.
Perhaps some of the Little Grizzlies will follow in the footsteps of the volunteering “big” Grizzlies, just as UM outside linebacker and Missoula native Jordie Tripp did.
“It’s actually pretty cool, because I went to this camp when I was younger,” Tripp said. “I know what a lot of the kids are thinking by growing up in this town and being associated with the college atmosphere with the players and them getting to coach at camp, which is really cool.
“Being on the other side of the spectrum, it’s also kind of cool to be able to help the kids out. So, when I see them all excited, I can completely relate. I have just as much fun as they do.”
Tripp said he and his UM teammates not only use the Little Grizzly camp as a means of building morale, they focus on getting the youngsters interested in the sport they love.
“We’re coaching together, laughing together, and it’s fun being around that kind of energy,” said Tripp, who is entering his fifth and final year with the UM football program. “What Bob and Matt have done is absolutely phenomenal. They figured out a way to teach the kids fundamentals at a young age, and they make it fun.
“You want to get them to have a good experience, but the emphasis is to have fun. It’s a good feeling to see a smile on their faces.”
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Perhaps even more appreciative of the Grizzly players than the grade schoolers is Hermes himself.
Especially when it comes to Tripp going from participant to volunteer coach.
“It’s just very heart-warming,” Hermes said. “Jordie’s one of the best. I had him in seventh and eighth grade, so I have quite a relationship with him. When you work with someone for all of those years, you develop a bond. My son (John) is out here, too, and although Jordie isn’t my son, it feels almost the same.”
Hermes said the UM players provide the kids positive lessons when it comes to “being a good person, working hard and getting good grades – the things you want to do right if you’re a student-athlete.”
A major component of the camp for fourth grader Tyson Rostad was getting to know new people.
“I think the best part has been making new friends and playing all the fun games,” said Rostad, who is also Tripp’s cousin. “I know a lot of kids on my team now and I’ve learned a lot. Like, how to do new stretches, do new plays, just a lot of new stuff.
“It’s also pretty fun meeting all the Grizzlies in person after watching them play.”
When asked what position he most desired to play, Rostad didn’t hesitate.
“Outside linebacker,” he said, “like my cousin.”