Local Sports

Heartland heroes

— Five years ago, Sebring football coach LaVaar Scott started a camp for Highlands County youth. And what began as a way to expose local kids to higher levels of football fundamentals has grown to accommodate youngsters from all over Central Florida.

“When this first started, I honestly didn’t know if it was going to be a one-time thing,” Scott said. “But with a lot of help from the community, my coaching staff, and our terrific sponsors, we’ve been able to grow this camp exponentially.”

This year’s Heartland Football Camp is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and will be held at the Highlands County Sports Complex. Campers in years past have gained insight from coaches who excelled in the college ranks and the NFL, and this year is no different.

“We’ve got guys who played at BYU and South Carolina coming into town. There’s even going to be a certified speed trainer who works with NFL guys,” Scott said. “They all have an interest in giving back to the community and helping kids become better football players and people.”

Scott hopes that giving high school players a glimpse at the work ethic of college and NFL athletes will inspire some campers.

“I thought everything I was doing in Sebring was tough,” Scott said. “But when I got to Miami I was blown away. I think some of these kids are going to feel the same way.”

A 1998 graduate of Sebring High School, Scott attended the University of Miami on a football scholarship. After returning to home to coach the Blue Streaks football team, Scott is acutely aware of how important it is to be active in the community. His grandmother, Mary Toney, was a councilwoman for more than a decade. The first African-American to serve on Sebring’s city Council, Toney was lauded for her community involvement.

“She was just a really big advocate of trying to help our community,” Scott said. “She was always trying to find ways to give back.”

Now Scott has stepped into that role.

Along with the Heartland Football Camp, Scott has helped organize 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, car washes, and community clean up sweeps among many other activities.

“These camps weren’t around when I was in high school,” Scott said. “Now that I have the chance to do it, I want to give back.”

Scott added that even though many of these kids come from schools that compete against each other during the season, everyone leaves the rivalries behind.

“Everyone’s just pushing everybody to get better,” Scott said. “That’s what so great about it. It’s just one cat trying to help another guy get better. Hard work breeds hard work.”

But Scott’s proudest achievement isn’t simply organizing the camp for the last five years. He’s elated because it’s been so inexpensive.

“Not everyone can afford to drive to Miami, UCF, or USF for one day of football camp,” Scott said. “And even when they can, they’re going deep into their pockets to pay for camp, gas, and lunch. We only require $20 for a full day, which includes lunch, a T-shirt, and a raffle ticket. We even offer a discount for kids who qualify for reduced lunches — not many camps can do all of this. Our goal is to make this about the kids. It’s about them, not about the money.”

Camp is still open for registration. Contact Scott at 214-3880 for more information.