Youth Flag Football Program Yields Positive Results On and Off Field
Early Saturday morning, boys between the ages of 10 and 16 gather on grassy fields at Moody Park. It is a sticky, humid day in early July but the young football players don’t seem to mind the heat. A small, pudgy boy wipes sweat from his brow and runs with a slight limp down the field where he joins older boys already in a huddle. Nobody smiles as they open up the circle to let him in. Even a stranger on the outside can see that what happens on the field is serious business.
The huddle closes up quickly and the boys whisper details about their next play. Suddenly, there is a low-pitched chant and a loud clap. The referee blows an ear-piercing whistle and the game begins.
Only this is more than a game. Recreational football is one way the Social Development Commission uses funding to positively impact Milwaukee County youth.
On this day, the flag football game (offered by the Social Development Commission’s Youth Services Program at no cost to participants) is located in a community where according to reports, half the residents live below the poverty line. More than one in three residents is unemployed. The report goes on to cite that nearly every block has boarded up and abandoned homes. The ZIP code it lands in — 53206 — led the city in homicides six of the past nine years of available data.*
If news reports highlight the worse, the Social Development Commission’s flag football program brings out the best. Parents sit sideline under umbrellas and in folding chairs where they enthusiastically cheer the kids. Volunteers grill hamburgers and hotdogs. Even police officers on bicycles stop and chat with people in the crowd.
“If I didn’t have this, I would be sitting at home playing video games,” says 15-year old Khalib Jennings, a SDC flag football player. “Out here we learn how to never give up even if it gets rough.”
And that’s the goal of the program. SDC’s recreational programs create an opportunity for coaches to mentor impressionable youth. Players, some without a father in the home, have access to male role models. The community helps these boys build character, stay in school and develop healthy habits. The football program also fosters new relationships and collaboration between organizations. At least one spin-off group formed to focus exclusively on academics.
It turns out that this was the last game of the season. And only one team took home the championship title. However, one thing was clear. There are no losers. Plus, there is more good news. Basketball season starts in fall and runs through most of the winter. The Social Development Commission sponsors a recreational basketball league too. In addition to SDC’s recreational sports programs, youth and their family members can access a variety of SDC family-strengthening programs and services. And like flag football, enrollment is free to participants.