Friday, August 01, 2008

The 'Bike Kids' of Green Bay

Hans Reitan of Ashwaubenon said it best:

“This is so traditional. Nobody else does this. You can just shine in the glory of the Packers, with them on your favorite bikes. It’s amazing. I love it.”

On the opening day of the Green Bay Packers’ training camp, Wisconsin youth converged on Lambeau Field with their Schwinn, Mongoose and Trek bikes in tow. As team members emerged from the players’ entrance, dozens of eager children, called the “bike kids,” turned into hawkers.

“Atari! Atari! Mr. Bigby!” they yelled.

“Pick me! Pick me!” shouted one boy.

“Look at my handlebars!” hollered another.

Accompanying their gridiron heroes from Lambeau Field to Clarke Hinkle Field, some stood on the axle pegs, some sat on the handlebars, and others ran alongside.

It has been a fixture of Packers training camp for about 40 years.

“All the Lombardi guys – Starr, Horning, Taylor – took part in it,” said Aaron Popkey, manager of corporate communications for the Packers. Popkey, who grew up in De Pere, was once a “bike kid” himself.

Local children started the tradition, Popkey said. As the activity became more popular with kids and players, Packers coaches began encouraging it.

“It’s something that has evolved a bit, but the charm and the tradition has remained.”

Some players use the same bike-child combination for every day of training camp. James Lofton, a Packers wide receiver from 1978-1986, is part of the Packers’ Hall of Fame Class of 2003.

“He made sure his bike kid was there at the [induction] ceremony with him,” said Popkey.

Experienced “bike kids” will be the first to mention that occasionally linemen and children’s bikes don’t mix. Frames bend and tires pop.

“There’s been some flat tires through the years,” said Popkey with a smile. “That’s part of the lore, too.”

According to Popkey, the tradition is stronger than ever.

“This is what makes Green Bay Packers football unique. The bond we have with the community – this is just another facet of that.”
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