DETROIT — A snowstorm, crazy wind and some freezing temperatures could never keep Detroiters from having a good time while celebrating football.
The City of Detroit, Visit Detroit and the Detroit Sports Commission came together Saturday at Detroit's Kemeny Recreation Center for the first stop on the "On The Clock Tour," which is bringing the fun and excitement of football to residents in each of the seven districts in Detroit ahead of April's 2024 NFL Draft.
"What city officials wanted to do, what the NFL wanted to do, and Visit Detroit, is to include the communities," said Crystal Perkins, director of the City of Detroit General Services Department. "The big event happens downtown, of course. We never want the residents to feel like they can't partake. It may be challenging for people to get downtown or some people may not want to go in a big crowd, given COVID, some people are still kind of leery about being in large crowds. But this gives them the opportunity to still participate and feel included in the activities."
The Winterfest at Kemeny Recreation Center featured something for everyone. There were horse-drawn carriage rides, ice skating and food trucks outdoors. There was a Frozen Forest where you could find aerial artists, On the Clock canvases to paint, a live Build-A-Bear station, a Frozen-themed bounce house and appearances from Anna, Elsa and Olaf. There was also an indoor Wintercade where you could play laser tag, battle archery, arcade games and bounce houses. There was a heated tent with a DJ and dancing and local vendors.
Denim McCoy, 10, showing off his fandom with his Lions shirt and jacket, was thrilled when Roary, the Lions mascot, and the Lions cheerleaders appeared.
"I'm definitely going (to the draft)," McCoy said when he found out that the draft is free. "My favorite players are Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta."
Jasmine Bryant heard about the event on Facebook and brought her six godchildren.
She was excited about the event being connected to the Lions and the NFL Draft.
""Yes, I'm a fan," Bryant said. "Go Lions! They've been doing a very good job."
Venisa Jordan brought her two children, Kylie, 9, and Langston, 7.
"I saw an email with activities for this weekend and this stood out to me with free activities," Jordan said. "I didn't know (about the draft connection) until I got here. It brings momentum for sure."
Being able to be creative with the crafts appealed to Kylie.
"I really like where we went and make the bears, so much fun," she said.
Langston's favorite parts of the event were all the physical activities.
"The bounce house and the basketball, and the football and the obstacle course," he said. "Seeing the Lions' (Roary), that was fun."
Detroit mayor Mike Duggan said he had trouble getting into the event because there were so many people outside who were taking pictures and enjoying the festivities.
"It's amazing," Duggan said. "They are having a ball. They're skating, they're playing. We're three months out from America coming to Detroit for the NFL Draft. We'll probably have 300,000 visitors. We're making sure that the draft is not just for our visitors, but for Detroiters.
"We're having events in every neighborhood in this city celebrating the draft. Today I saw lots of Lions paintings and drawings, just a lot of happiness."
There's a lot of happiness with the Lions about to host their first playoff game at Ford Field, and that made the football-themed Winterfest even more exciting.
"There is an energy around the city right now that is electric," said Claude Molinari, president of Visit Detroit. "You just can feel it wherever you go and every restaurant, every bar, every hotel, every attraction, every shop, everyone's feeling it. It's all Lions all the time."
Perkins agreed that the stars aligned for this particular weekend.
"We couldn't have picked a more perfect weekend," she said. "You gotta think, planning for this started months ago. We didn't know that the very next day the Lions will be playing in their first ever playoff game at Ford Field, the first ever in how many years? So many years! It's exciting. I think the city itself as a whole is just excited about what the Lions have been doing, what our neighbors at U of M just did in Ann Arbor, and the different activations that we have going on."
Expect to see the 2024 NFL Draft Rover in the coming months as it makes its way around the city and state.
"This is one of 13 stops within the city of Detroit where we're going to be picking Saturday weekends and going to recreation centers and getting people enthusiastic about the draft," Molinari said. "But we're also going throughout Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties. So we're excited about how we're going to really showcase the NFL Draft to everybody. We want to make sure it's super inclusive so everyone feels that it's not just the outsiders coming in but it's also for Detroiters and southeast Michiganders."
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