Knights, youngsters share field for evening of fun at Downey High

naustin@modbee.comOctober 18, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

Varsity football players took a timeout from tackling homework one night this week to play with pipsqueaks half their size – or less.

It was Downey High’s Knight under the Lights night, when the team runs kindergartners through sixth-graders through a gantlet of games that mostly call for running, catching and jumping on top of any big guy on the field.

“Somehow it always ends up in a dogpile,” said head coach Jeremy Plaa with a laugh as he watched 100 or so youngsters chasing, shrieking and, sure enough, racing over to cover a downed player Thursday night.

The guys went down, it must be said, on purpose. Teammates called the play, egging on growing mounds of small fry.

“It’s always a good time,” Plaa said, especially for the team members. “When they start signing autographs, it’ll be like they’re the 49ers out here,” he said.

For senior José Barrios, that’s part of the fun. “I like how it brings smiles to kids’ faces. The fact that they look up to us brings a smile to my face,” he said.

“I just like interacting with kids,” said Jeffry Jones as red-cheeked kids playing freeze tag dashed by.

Kelly Peters, a 6-foot-5 offensive lineman weighing in at 310 pounds, gave 6-year-olds rides on his shoulders to catch gently tossed passes. “I like football,” he shrugged, “It’s all pretty fun.”

Games of tug of war and duck, duck, goose and soccer kicks under the goal posts were among the activities players ran with 10 to 15 kids grouped by grade. The big scoreboard counted down the minutes until everybody switched to a new game. Tony Ibarra, Eddie Love and friends made up their own event, called super ball, that involved a lot of running and tossing.

“The players run the night. The players make it all happen,” said assistant coach Ernie Sanchez before going to cheer on young kickers at the south-side goal.

Parents Kevin and Erica Van Bibber sat on the sidelines, watching their kindergartner and third-grader play.

“The players are having so much fun. It’s impressive,” said Kevin Van Bibber. “They’re showing a level of maturity, and at the same time having fun,” he said.

“I think it’s great,” said parent Veronica Garcia. “We come out every year.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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