Jun. 10—This article was updated on June 10, 2021.
FAIRMONT For four years, the fields at Windmill Park have not seen football, except for the occasional backyard scrum. It has remained that way ever since the 612 MAC Bulldogs, named as such from the 612 MAC community center that housed different after-school programs, ceased activity.
But come August, Tanisha Douglas hopes to change that.
"We grew up on football, we grew up with the 612 MAC Bulldogs," Douglas said. "So we're trying to bring that back to the community."
Douglas, along with seven other coaches, have started up a new youth football program, the West Fairmont Panthers, to give the current crop of Fairmont youth the same opportunities that they had as kids. The Panthers' inaugural camp began June 7, as prospective football players — kindergarten through eighth grade — hit the field to learn the ropes of the game in preparation for live games come August.
"We're teaching them the fundamentals of football, they're learning to have fun, meet new people, interact with new kids and coaches," Douglas said. "Even if they didn't know how to play at all, now they'll learn."
It was those same lessons that Douglas and other coaches at the camp learned while playing for the 612 MAC Bulldogs, as the Panthers serve as the spiritual successor to the now-defunct team, and the community leaders of 612 MAC who made it possible — especially, says Douglas, Frank Hines and Anna McCright, whose after-school programs the coaches of the Panthers often went to.
The Panthers were slated to begin last season, but those intentions, like many others, were put on hold when the COVID-19 virus first set upon the nation and the world. While the Panthers' plans were put on hold, now it is full-steam ahead.
"We're just getting the kids to know it's alright to go outside and play again," Jamar Foster, one of the Panthers' coaches, said before camp Wednesday.
"It's really nice to come together and get the kids active again," said Sierra Former, who has her three children enrolled in the camp.
The camp, which parents enrolled their children in at no cost, consists of stretching and cardio, individual drills in small rotating groups, and a full-camp activity at the end of the day. Wednesday's event was a timed obstacle course, with the campers erupting into cheers as the final participant set the fastest time on the day.
"[My kids] love it," Former said. "I didn't think they were going to like it because this is their first time playing, but they really do enjoy it."
Alongside football comes cheerleading, as Teresa Lodge, a former WVU competitive cheerleader, instructs a different group of kids on the basics of cheerleading.
Douglas and the Panthers hope to play the Eastside Rockets, as well as teams from Mannington, Morgantown and beyond this upcoming season, beginning in August.
"It's going to become a great team, it'll be a great season," Douglas said. "I feel like the kids enjoyed it — we made sure we made it fun for them, and made sure they still learned the fundamentals of football at the same time."
To support the West Fairmont Panthers, visit their West Fairmont Panthers Facebook page and their West Fairmont Panthers Inaugural Season GoFundMe page.