The former NFL players in town for a youth football camp this week may be retired.
But even on the basketball court, they still have their competitive edge, and they bring out that same spirit in their opponents.
Four of the five players working with E-Matt Athletics, former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Eric Matthews’ sports training business, played a “Pros vs. Joes” charity basketball game Thursday night at New Hope Middle School. They took on a team of Dalton firefighters and one Dalton Police Department officer.
Dawn and Ricky Johnson’s Tunnel Hill training facility, Athletic Edge, have partnered with Matthews and the players this week to bring a series of events, including a three-day youth football camp at Northwest Whitfield High School that started Thursday.
Also today, there will be a night of activity at Retro Bowl of Dalton. With a donation to the local Boys & Girls Clubs, fans can go one-on-one in either bowling or pool against any of the former NFL players in attendance.
All proceeds from the basketball game went to Dennis Green, a Whitfield County firefighter who has been diagnosed with brain cancer. His family was not in attendance. Dawn Johnson did not know how much was raised from the event’s gate.
The Pros won 64-60, and the route to get there included plenty of arguing about ball possession, fouls and anything else you’d expect from a normal basketball game.
“That’s just in the natural athlete,” said Clinton “C.J.” Jones, one of the former NFL players. “All athletes are competitive and you want to win. It could be an Uno game or Connect Four or chess. It’s just in you.”
Jones played for Min-nesota and San Diego. The others who played were former University of Georgia running back Keith Hende-rson (Minnesota and San Francisco) and Kendall New-some (Jacksonville, Miami and Tennessee), while Robert Hicks (Buffalo) helped keep score. All are helping coach at the youth camp.
The Pros’ other starter was 2013 Northwest graduate Dustin Stanley, who played football and basketball for the Bruins and will play basketball at Georgia North-western Technical College this school year.
The Joes trailed by 20 at halftime but gave the Pros a scare toward the end.
“It’s still competitive,” Dalton firefighter Grant Jenkins said. “We’re all competitive. Some of us played basketball in college. If I play something, I want to win. We’re still competitive.”
For some, the game was just a chance to have some fun.
“I’m just glad to be out here,” said Mark Richardson, another firefighter. “I had two heart attacks in the past.”
He admitted he wasn’t expecting to win.
“I’m just glad I’m not hurt,” he added. “We had a good time, though.”
Others got in on the fun, too. A few of the kids in attendance got on the court to play for the Pros side, and their combined five points made the difference. Julia Fish, 13, made a 3-pointer in the third quarter, and Jacob Sangster, 13, made a jump shot on the next possession. Both are New Hope Middle School students.
“I was just told I was playing,” Fish said. “I wasn’t expecting to play. I expected to do scorekeeping. It was fun to play with the football players and firefighters.”
Dawn Johnson said it wasn’t planned, but Matthews and the football players made impromptu substitutions.
“It was just a here-and-now thing,” she said, noting the same event with Matthews and his company is already being planned for next year. “We put this together in three months this year. I just thought it would be really fun.”
Another fun event held during Matthews’ and the former NFL players’ stay was a baseball game Wednes-day at the Whitfield County Miracle Field. Members of the Crossfire Softball select team, local firefighters and other area groups joined the local NFL players to play with Miracle League players.
Matthews said he hasn’t done any sort of charity work “to that caliber” and he was blown away.
“To see these kids playing on a field of their own is special. It’s wonderful,” Matt-hews said.