By Chris Whitfield
Ricky and Dawn Johnson are starting a new athletic business in Tunnel Hill, and they’ve already been looking for ways to give back to the community and attract potential customers.
The couple, who are opening the training facility “Athletic Edge,” have five children. They know what it is like to try and keep their kids busy in the summer, so Dawn thought it was natural to have a youth athletic camp.
“I (was) a sports kid myself, and I started thinking about things to do,” she said. “We are football fans, and we started Googling football camps and came across Eric Matthews.”
Matthews was a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers in 1996 and 1997 when they made back-to-back appearances in the Super Bowl, beating the New England Patriots 35-21 but losing 31-24 to the Denver Broncos. A knee injury ended his career in 1998, but he has gone on to become active in charity work and youth sports training, including running camps with the help of fellow former NFL players.
Matthews formed the business E-Matt Athletics, and he and other former players volunteer their time for charitable causes and groups in the areas where they hold their camps.
“It started as a business relationship and just grew from there,” Dawn said of connecting with Matthews. “I thought it was neat that NFL guys are giving back to youth, but it is much deeper for them than that.”
Matthews and as many as six other former NFL players — Keith Henderson (San Francisco), Robert Hicks (Buffalo), Clinton “C.J.” Jones (New England), Thomas Lewis (New York Giants), Chris Slade (New England) and Kenneth Woodard (Denver) — will be in the area for a camp and other activities on July 17-20.
And while it started out as an idea for another summer activity for the Johnsons, it quickly turned into something more.
“We were talking to (Matthews) about the camp, and he asked if we had a Boys & Girls Club in the area,” Dawn said. “He said, “Let’s do something for them.’ We brought up a couple of other things, and it just grew and has turned into so much more than we could have imagined.”
Activity begins on July 17 with a 6 p.m. baseball game at Whitfield County’s Miracle Field. The NFL players, members of the Crossfire Softball organization, Dalton firefighters and other local groups will partner with Miracle League players. Concessions, T-shirt sales and barbecue plates will be available, with all of the proceeds benefiting the Miracle League of Whitfield County. Following that, the former NFL players will host a meet-and-greet event at 8:30 p.m. at Chili’s in Dalton.
On July 18, there will be another meet-and-greet event at 4 p.m. at the Oakwood Cafe in downtown Dalton, with a “Pros vs. Joes” basketball game to follow at 6:30 p.m. at New Hope Middle School. Funds raised from the game will benefit the City of Refuge charity and the New Hope athletic program. On July 19, there will be a night of bowling at Retro Bowl of Dalton. For a donation, fans can challenge the former NFL players to a game on the lanes or with a pool cue. All proceeds benefit local Boys & Girls Clubs.
In addition, the youth football camp for ages 8-17 will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 18-19 and 9 a.m. to noon on July 20 at Northwest Whitfield High School. A one-hour camp for ages 5-7 will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. on July 19. When the main camp ends Saturday, there will be a barbecue lunch to benefit the Northwest athletic program.
“All of the money raised for charities will go to the charities,” Dawn said. “I am completely in awe and blessed and honored to get to know (Matthews) and his NFL friends. It is very rare that you find people who are willing to give back to a community they know nothing about. It really humbled me.”
The youth football camp costs $235, but Johnson said she is soliciting businesses to serve as sponsors to allow more of the area’s children to attend via scholarships. The one-hour camp for ages 5-7 is $25.
To register, visit emattathletics.com. To learn more, call (404) 552-8838.