CFL legend helps redeem near-botched football camp in Grand Forks

An elite football camp just south of the border didn't go as planned last weekend, leaving a number of young players from Manitoba frustrated yet appreciative when a CFL champion helped make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Grey Cup champion Adam Rita volunteers to coach elite camp after organizer 'left people stranded'

Elite football players aged 14 to 20 took part in a Grand Forks football camp over the weekend. (Supplied)

An elite football camp just south of the border didn't go as planned last weekend, leaving a number of young players from Manitoba frustrated yet appreciative when a CFL champion helped make the best of an unfortunate situation.

The weekend camp at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D., was designed to link young players with college and university coaches and scouts.

Hunter Brown, 16, shelled out US $450 for the camp and was looking forward to putting his skills on display.
Hunter Brown, 16, said he and others who attended a football camp in Grand Forks felt let down by the organizer of the event, but happy CFL legend Adam Rita was there to help salvage the weekend. (Supplied)

"All of us were excited to go down there, have an official game against the Americans, get some good film," the teen from Transcona said.

The players were supposed to be supplied with new game jerseys and gear, but they didn't receive any of the equipment they were promised, Brown said.

"They promised all this stuff, right, and we didn't get any of it," he said.

"We were supposed to have coaches and we ended up having a volunteer coach show up. He was supposed to just come down and watch and then he stepped up as a coach."

While Brown said he felt let down, he also said he was grateful to have Grey Cup champion Adam Rita on hand to pick up the slack.

The former coach and general manager for the B.C. Lions won two Grey Cups with the Toronto Argonauts. Rita currently runs an elite, private-school football program at The Hill Academy in Toronto. 

He happened to be in Grand Forks scouting and volunteered to step in as coach at short notice.
Former B.C. Lions general manager Adam Rita volunteered to coach an elite football camp last weekend when the organizer "left people stranded." (Canadian Press/Chuck Stoody)

"The guy who's running it, I think he's done some stuff like this in Europe. He's a young guy, 22. He's in over his head. He made a lot of promises; not one of them happened, except he did rent the stadium," Rita said, adding the organizer had also developed a great program but ultimately "left people stranded."

"When we realized there was no coach for the younger players, another coach and I who were there recruiting, we volunteered because we weren't going to let the kids down."

Rita said he and the other coach slapped some drills together and managed to salvage the situation for the players.

"We put together offences, defences and special teams and three practices and had a game plan. I stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning Saturday night putting together a wrist band for the quarterbacks so I could signal plays in," Rita said.

The impromptu coaches put together 40 plays in an attempt to give each player a chance to show their peers what they're made of.

"You want to make sure that everyone who has a skill gets a touch, because you want to show the players off a bit," Rita said.

The parents of players who followed their children from out of state also rallied and "did an awesome" job of keeping things positive, Rita added.

"You see people, how they reacted. Some were negative but at the end of the day, it was about the kids, and it always is, so we banded together," Rita said.

"Everybody played and one of the parents was a professional videographer and taped the game. I was going to send that out to the kids. The problem is we had no jerseys, so there's no numbers and it won't work for recruiting purposes. The parents were awesome."

'He's a legend'

As an added bonus and ego boost, Rita said, it was nice to see some of the parents in attendance recognized him.

"It was funny. One guy told his son, 'Do you know who you're being coached by?'" Rita said. "He goes, 'He's a legend.' I told the kid, 'It's because I'm old.' The dad said, 'Google his name.'"

Will Mattis, the original organizer of the camp, did not immediately respond to CBC's requests for an interview. On Tuesday, he told CBC "we would have truly loved to put on the event we had planned but due to matters out of our control, it did not play out the way we thought."

He has already refunded more than $25,000 to those who paid to attend "and that will continue to grow," he said, adding he is "doing everything we can to help the families involved."

Mattis was also upset about what happened, he said.

"It was not a scam by any means, as our intentions were good, and I truly mean that from the bottom of my heart," he said in a statement provided to the CBC.

A number of things went wrong, including difficulty accessing funds from an online banking company and trouble getting the jersey company to deliver the uniforms on time, the statement said.

"I'm not trying to deflect the blame elsewhere, as I could have also done many things better on my end as well."