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Power of the Packers
Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery, linebacker Blake Martinez and defensive tackle Kenny Clark field questions from attendees at the lunch with the Packers benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Green County at Turner Hall in Monroe April 12. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - The 112 community members packed into Turner Hall donning green and gold, clamoring for the attention of well-known athletes to secure an autograph or snap a selfie.

That was the scene at the Green Bay Packers luncheon fundraiser Thursday for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Green County.

The Packers contingent included CEO and President Mark Murphy, three current players - running back Ty Montgomery, linebacker Blake Martinez and defensive tackle Kenny Clark - and former wide receiver Antonio Freeman, tight end Bubba Franks and long snapper Rob Davis. The Turner Hall event was one of the stops on the Packers Tailgate Tour. 

Children and fans in attendance during a question-and-answer session quizzed players on how much they can bench press and what's on their bucket list. They discussed playing a potential game in London in the near future, debated player safety rule changes in the NFL to prevent head injuries and concussions and questioned whether Montgomery will change his jersey number before the upcoming season because of his shift from receiver to running back.

"I don't want to change my number because of all those fans who have spent money on my jersey," Montgomery joked.

But on a more serious note, Montgomery said he had no intention of changing.

"As long as I'm a Packer, I will be wearing 88," Montgomery said. "I know the number is different and not natural (for a running back). I think the number represents who I am as a player as someone who believes in diversity. Wearing this number is a reminder of my varied skill set. Wearing this number is a testament to that."

The Packers are one of just two NFL teams that has never played an international game during the regular season. That may change. Murphy said the Packers are in discussions with the league about playing a game possibly in London in 2019 or 2020.

"I know our fans would travel over there and our fans over there would love it," Murphy said. "We will not give up a home game to do it. We travel so well that other teams don't want to give up a home game against the Packers."

One fan questioned about a player safety rule change that will prohibit players from initiating a tackle by lowering their head and helmet.

Murphy, who is on the competition committee for the NFL charged with developing rules for player safety, said he supports the rule change.

"The rule is there to eliminate the helmet from being used as a weapon," he said.

Murphy said youth football has done a good job of ensuring the game remains safe. The two new football leagues launching - the Alliance of American Football League and the United Football League - will both eliminate kickoffs. During Murphy's younger days, he played on kickoff and punt-return teams. He understands the threat playing special teams could pose.

"It's dangerous because it's full speed and wide-open spaces," he said.

Packers officials contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters of Green County about working in conjunction on a fundraiser. 

Shannon Kaszuba, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Green County, said the luncheon with the Packers raised an estimated $4,750. There are still raffle tickets being sold through Wednesday for a football autographed by placekicker Mason Crosby.

"We are grateful to the Packers for choosing our organization for the tailgate," Kaszuba said. "In addition to the money raised, it's great for our 'littles' and matches to see them giving back to the community."

Kaszuba said 100 percent of the proceeds will go back into the community to support the community-based program matches, meal-time matches between adults and children called Lunch Buddies, and School Friends, a program that matches high school students with younger children for supervised meetings at school.

Kaszuba said funds will help purchase snacks, games and cover administration costs for the three programs run through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Green County, which served 250 area children last year.

Murphy recalls being a "big brother" in college and how much of an impact the Big Brothers Big Sisters program can have on children in a community.

"We wanted to raise money for this great cause," he said. "We need more people who are willing to serve as 'big brothers,' 'big sisters' and role models."

Martinez, who was the NFL's leading tackler last year, shared a story about weighing 275 pounds as a high school freshman. Martinez credited an influential person in his life, his strength trainer of nine years Glenn Howell, for helping him keep a positive mindset about his goals in life.

"I wouldn't be where I am without a mentor," Martinez said. "He's been a huge mentor for me, especially my mental side. The big thing he told me is by working hard, success will come. Being able to have someone there that told me the positive things and what to do was huge for me."

Kasey Tousignant, Monroe, said children at her table lit up with excitement during the Packers luncheon, sharing football statistics. Tousignant, a "big sister" for five years, was equally excited.

"This event was over-the-top of how it affected the kids because they look up to the Packers," she said. "It shows what great role models the Packers are, and the kids are able to see that."