It was going to be a warm August day, which is why we were up and out of our hotel room early. We were all dressed in red and yellow, and I double-checked that I had plenty of markers and ink pens in my purse.
We had come to St. Joseph, Missouri, following our Kansas City Chiefs. My husband, Will, and I had grown up watching the Chiefs and, in turn, were raising our two kids to appreciate the spirit of Missouri’s only professional football team.
The KC Chiefs Training Camp at Missouri Western University in St. Jo provides devoted fans like us the chance to get up close and personal with our favorite players and see firsthand the rigorous training—both physically and mentally—the players go through.
But it’s August in Missouri, and that means high temps and high humidity, which is why we needed to be on the Missouri Western campus by 8 a.m. Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid gets the team out on the practice field early for a solid workout before the temperature rises too high for his players and fans in the stands.
Attending summer training camp is completely different from attending a game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It’s intimate and low-key, with fans eager to see the game from this unique vantage point.
With players literally just a few yards away, we were immediately caught up in the sound of whistles, calls from coaches, and clapping hands that filled the air as we found our place on the stadium seats.
“You can hear them grunt,” laughed my eight-year-old daughter, Bella, as player after player slammed into the sled in front of us.
“Those are the same stretches and exercises we had to do when I was playing,” said Will, a former tight end for his high school team. “Some things just don’t change.”
Although this was our first training camp, I came prepared with our Chiefs seat cushions to shield ourselves from the heat of the metal stadium seats. Hot dogs and lemonade in hand, we were pleased to find that snacks and drinks are considerably cheaper at training camp than on game day.
Practice lasted for two hours, but the kids were not bored for a minute, asking plenty of questions and demonstrating a passion for the game and the intricacies of the plays that made their daddy proud. And Will was equally happy, at times walking along the fence line to get better pictures and shout words of encouragement to the team and staff.
All too soon, the morning’s practice was over, but the best was yet to come. As players were heading to the locker room, several stopped to sign autographs and talk with fans.
Will was thrilled to have a brief conversation with defensive end Frank Clark as he signed one of the Chiefs seat cushions we had brought with us. My 10-year-old son, Ben, got wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ autograph on his ball cap. Yep, packing those markers in my purse that morning was a good play.
And the highlight? There was no charge for these autographs, which is not always the case when players are made accessible to fans throughout the year.
As the players went to the showers, we headed out to lunch. Il Lazzarone is said to serve the best Neapolitan pizza in St. Joseph, so that’s where we headed. It was already packed with other Chiefs fans when we got there. Nonetheless, we got a table for four where we could easily watch the pizza makers throw and shape the dough into perfect pies before sliding them into the high-temperature oven, which we were told was ordered directly from Italy. Bella and Ben appreciated the show, while Will and I appreciated the Chiefs Training Camp special, which meant that all pizzas were under $10.
Because of the summer heat and training schedule, the Chiefs no longer hold an afternoon practice outdoors. Therefore, after lunch, we decided to explore the Remington Nature Center.
Located on the banks of the Missouri River, the Nature Center includes a 7,000-gallon aquarium that holds several dozen fish typical of what you would find in this part of the Missouri River. Flathead catfish, carp, blue gill, and more swim merrily at eye level for most children. But here’s a tip: two fish in the tank are not native to the Missouri River. I challenged Bella and Ben to spot them. They enthusiastically accepted the task, scurrying back and forth in front of the tank, their eyes following the different fish to get a closer look.
We took some time to explore outside and take advantage of the nature scavenger hunt that the center offers. The breeze across the river made for a nice hike along the paved trails around the nature center as the kids scoured the scenery for items on their list.
After completing the hunt, we spent another hour or two exploring the Pony Express history in St. Joseph. In today’s world of instant communication, it’s difficult for the kids imagine a time when it took 10 days for a letter to travel from Missouri to California. Honestly, it’s even hard for adults to comprehend, but the Pony Express National Museum did a good job of transporting our family to the 19th century.
By then, we were ready for dinner. Keeping with the history theme, we took the kids to Hoof & Horn, St. Joseph’s oldest restaurant. Located in the south end of town, the restaurant dates to 1898 and is a local icon.
I ordered the open-faced tenderloin, and it was big enough for two people to share. My husband enjoyed a Kansas City strip steak with compound butter, cooked to perfection, and the kids happily chowed down on chicken strips.
Despite being so full that we could barely walk, my husband and I had promised the kids ice cream for behaving so well all day long, so a stop at Eclipz Gourmet Popcorn and Ice Cream on Felix Street was our final outing for the day.
We each savored a small cone on the spot and ordered a bucket of Chiefs popcorn as a souvenir of our road trip to St. Joseph. Flavored with cinnamon, cheddar, and white cheddar, it’s made fresh for all of those fans like us who can’t get enough of the Chiefs Kingdom.
The second day of our Chiefs Training Camp road trip started slightly cooler. Instead of a hotel breakfast, we had something special in mind for the kids. We headed out to Rosecrans Memorial Airport—not to fly anywhere but to have breakfast at the diner there. A classic old-school diner, this restaurant is known for its biscuits and gravy, as well as pancakes and sausage. But the best part is the view. Bella and Ben’s eyes were glued to the windows, watching the huge C-130 planes take off and land right outside. (The airport is also home to the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard.) The kids were so fascinated that it was hard to tear them away to get over to Missouri Western for a morning practice.
We learned that each day at camp is a little different, depending on weather conditions. You aren’t always guaranteed a scrimmage or an autograph session, but you can count on a great team and excited fans preparing for another thrilling season of World Champion Chiefs football in Kansas City.