Rams invite local teams to practice

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With their high school football season set to open in just two days, the McCluer North High Stars have spent time preparing for their season opener at a local park.

Because of the continued unrest in nearby Ferguson, Mo., the Ferguson-Florissant school district has been shut down all week. That means no school, and it also means the facilities at McCluer North, McCluer and McCluer South-Berkeley have been shut down.

About 15 minutes away, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and members of the front-office staff have been looking for ways to help. When informed that McCluer North had been practicing two miles away from the school at Wedgwood Park, the answer became clear.

The Rams invited the football teams at each of the three schools to come to Rams Park on Wednesday to use the indoor facility for practice and stay to watch the Rams close their training camp with their own practice.

McCluer North and McCluer High Schools took the Rams up on their offer Wednesday, and McCluer South-Berkeley is expected to come to Rams Park soon.

Fisher made it clear that all three schools have an open-door policy for as long as they need a place to practice.

"It means a lot to us," Fisher said. "You can all imagine what they're going through in addition to everybody in Ferguson. It's just very, very sad. We hope that things get worked out just as soon as they possibly can. This is different. This is football players and football players. This will be something that I hope they'll always remember."

After going through a practice on the team's indoor 80-yard field, the teams emerged from the Rams' locker room and took their sideline seats in a tent just to the north of the field. When Fisher was done speaking, many of the Rams players walked over and gave high-fives to the players from McCluer High.

Later in the workout, Fisher again walked over to the tent and invited the players to participate in a team drill in which the offense starts from deep in its own territory. The McCluer North players crowded near the end zone and provided plenty of noise for the Rams offense to deal with in a simulation of what the situation would be like in a game.

When the drill was finished, the McCluer North players provided plenty more energy for the Rams by offering up their own team chants. They also got to participate in the breakdown huddle at the end of practice. They formed a circle and yelled "1, 2, 3, Ferguson!"

Marquis Prophete, McCluer North's senior captain and left tackle, said it was his second time visiting Rams Park but under much different circumstances.

"Freshman year we got to come here, but this is a different experience altogether," Prophete said. "It means a lot to me. The Rams don't just think 'OK, they are in the same state or the same area,' but they see us. They know we need to practice and we need somewhere to practice at. I think it's really nice of them to reach out to all three of the schools. It's really great for them to look out for the community."

Last week, the Rams also donated 75 tickets to each of the three schools to attend the team's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Tensions remain high in Ferguson, but the Rams plan to continue to look for ways to help.

If nothing else, the chance to practice on a real field offers each player the chance to simply forget about what's going on at home.

"It was nice morale for the team," McCluer North coach Courtland Griffin said. "Some of our kids do live in that neighborhood. Just to get away from it and clear their minds and not worry about what's going on in the streets and get away with football for a while, it's an awesome thing to do. This whole day has just been one of the most awesome days ever. We will remember this forever."