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The Story of Rico and JR

May 9, 2014 - Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) - Northern Kentucky River Monsters News Release

Let me tell you a story, a line you will hear a lot when talking to players, staff members, and owners in the indoor football circuit. Everyone that has been around this sport has a ton of them. Many are about the time something goes wrong, a few are about the time something goes right, and once in a while you'll find one that make you stop and appreciate great things about minor league sports life. So let me tell you a story about Rico and JR.

Rico Middlebrooks started this season, his second in CIFL, with the Marion Blue Racers. Playing with the Dayton Sharks the season prior, Rico had become known to be a player that likes to talk. His position as a defensive linemen, fit that mantra. As much as he talks on the field, he loves to talk off the field just a much. He is a people person. He loves to chat with any and every one. He will not hesitate to talk to opponent players and coaching staff, fans both visitors and home ones. Which is how he meet JR.

JR is a 5 yr. old boy that lives in Marion, Ohio, the youngest of a family of 6. Their family, looking for something to do on a winter day, decided to attend a Marion Blue Racer game. They came early and here Rico walks up to this family and as he typically does, starts talking. "I simply thought it would be nice of me to allow a kid to experience interaction with players as we stretched," recalled Rico. Taken back by the request the family accepts his offer and before you know it, JR is on the field warming up with the team. "He was a little afraid to come onto the field the first game" Rico said. "The next game he loosened up and was excited to hang out."

It was after that second game that the parents of JR reached out to Rico on Facebook and asked if he would be interested in hanging out outside of the arena, Rico agreed. "We had hotel rooms each home game so I decided I'd spend my night hanging with JR at the bowling alley." This became the norm for Rico and JR, which was until the midpoint of the season.

The Marion Blue Racers cut Rico Middlebrooks along with a handful of other players midway through March. The news reached JR the next day. "We just got done hanging pics of Jr and Rico .....All of a sudden he got really upset and kept saying....He misses his Rico......this really make me want to cry" posted Jennifer, JR's mother, on Facebook.

Rico who was just picked up by the River Monsters shared his sediment back, "Wow I became great friends with this kid while playing for Marion, I had to tell him today that I'm no longer a blue racer and switched teams! He decorated his room with pics of me and him hanging! I'm sadden by this! I have to go see him play baseball when he starts his season! My guy!"

"Cuts happened in sports all the time, for a number of reasons: player performance, coaching changes, and for the financial bottom line. At the time we needed to add size to our defensive line after losing #14 DE Jackson Tolle for the season. Rico was someone our coaching staff had looked at in the offseason, so the timing worked out," explained GM John Jackson. "A few days after the contracts were signed that I learned about JR. It was a no-brainer. I offered JR's entire family free tickets to our home games if they were willing to make the 3 hours trip to Northern Kentucky." JR and his family came. Dressed all in green with handmade signs and freshly pressed #52 on their backs. "Skittles!" Rico interrupts the interview. "JR always beings me a bag of Skittles." A big grin on his face continues.

JR has been on the field for warm ups and introductions for the remainder of the home games for the River Monsters, and him and his family has been in the stands for every game since. Jennifer writes back, "Rico's impact on JR has motivated JR's love for football, most important he learned what role model and hero is and how to be respectful yet competitive. We cannot and will not ever be able to thank Rico enough for what he have done for JR. Ever since Rico came into his life, there has never been a day he hasn't mentioned his name. We truly are blessed to have gotten the chance to meet Rico and have him come into our lives. Rico once said JR will make us proud someday which he already has and we know there is more to come. We drove down to Kentucky because not only our love for football. But how the River Monsters organization has shown loyalty and love for their fans. They make us feel like we are part of the game as well. As well as the love that JR and Rico shares. It tore him apart to see Rico leave Marion. We are extremely excited about the playoff game in our backyard. Looking forward to watching our River Monsters bring home a win."

"Hanging with JR is like having a lil brother that's excited to be around his big brother, and for me being that big brother, it is excited to see a smile on my lil bro's face." Rico says reflecting on the experience, and all that has happened over the past four months. He prepares to return to his former team where he started his season at, in a must win game for the River Monsters to extend his season for one more game and a shot to be champions. "Jr has taught me that it's more to sports than just playing the game! He has taught me that just simply saying hello to a kid that I've never known or know what goes on in their lives, can keep a smile on their face and the all the ones around them! It has taught me that athletes can touch so many lives if they just took the time out to do so."

Life in Minor League Sports is rough, and being a fan can be tenuous, but it's in these places such as the Veteran's War Memorial Arena, or the Bank of Kentucky Center, that special stories like these are created. No one around has the millions of dollars to make this a movie, or show it up on a jumbo-tron, or be followed by an ESPN or NFL Network camera crew, but the story and the people are real and it's the wholesomeness and ordinariness of this encounter and interaction between Rico and JR that propels me to share this story. This is why we press on each week, and support our home teams, and truly appreciate the minor side of a major sport.

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The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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