First chance to catch Packers action draws a crowd
By Rowena Vergara
Binoculars, digital cameras, even camera cell phones and all the green and gold apparel you could imagine.
You name it, Green Bay Packers fans had it as they lined the fences and filled the bleachers surrounding Clarke Hinkle Field in Ashwaubenon on Friday for the first full day of training camp practice.
While fans say each year is more or less the same, the start of a new season never fails to excite people, especially those from out of town.
The fan base was made up of folks from North Dakota, Massachusetts and as far away as the Middle East.
“You drive up and you see Lambeau and you’re like, ‘OK, here we are.’ You get your heart pumping,” said Angie Czerwinski, 42, of Fort Myers, Fla., and originally from Milwaukee.
Czerwinski was thrilled to be present at training camp after watching games on satellite television all last season. For each game, the family is “decked out in Packer attire,” said the woman who wore green and gold Chuck Taylor sneakers and a matching football jersey.
The concentration of fans as they studied players’ every move surprised Percy Robertson of Milwaukee, a first-time attendee.
In fact, not much talking was going on among these railbirds.
“Everybody is actually paying attention. They want to see everything in detail. I’m almost afraid to talk now,” he said.
“I’m just happy to see Javon (Walker) show up. I was about to be real upset,” he added.
The Packers receiver skipped the offseason minicamps and workout sessions because he wanted the team to renegotiate his contract. Walker returned Wednesday for the first official team meeting.
Ronna Washines, 33, of Washington was in Green Bay once 13 years ago. She was back in town, attending a conference and found out training camp was going on.
“I know everyone at home is going to be really excited once they know we were here,” she said.
It’s been too long since Jan Bustrak, originally from Superior, has seen the Packers in action. She moved to the Middle East four years ago and wakes up around 3 a.m. to listen to games through Internet radio.
“We never get to see the passes or tackles, so seeing it with your own eyes is fun,” she said.
Coach Mike Sherman also created a new activity which gives children the chance to be a “ball kid” for a day, said team spokesman Aaron Popkey.
Kids must first gather around the bike corral where players exit the locker room at Lambeau Field to get a raffle ticket. Before the start of each training camp day, a ticket number is chosen and the child must be present to win.
The “ball kid” also receives freebies such as a T-shirt, Packers cap and a spot in the autograph line.
In addition to being randomly selected as a ball kid, Brandon Rhoades, 13, of Green Bay had at least five Packers players ride his bike. Antonio Chatman was one player who persuaded Rhoades to consider being a kick returner or punt returner.
Chatman told him, “It isn’t too bad being too small. It’s kind of fun,” Rhoades said.
Maurice Brown of Sheboygan was in town for a wedding and encouraged several out-of-town guests to check out the practices.
Brown appreciates “actually seeing the players as people who practice rather than machines at game day,” he said.
Fans also said they noticed a larger turnout than last year. And that was just the first day.