CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — Back in August, the Seahawks youth football team took a trip to see the Washington Redskins’ training camp.
The players, who range from 4 to 14 years old, excitedly craned their heads over a fence to watch their favorite stars. Some took off for an obstacle course the pro team set up. Others made friends by throwing a football around in a nearby field.
Exhausted as they exited the facility at the end of the day, one player, Jaloni Ryans, kept them excited with a round of chants.
“One, two, three, Seahawks!”
“Four, five six, family!”
It was a small but telling moment about what it means to be on the Seahawks, from opening day through the season’s very end: This is a football team about more than just football.
Another moment followed. A police officer noticed the boys chanting and approached.
“You’re going to be good, because you’re a leader,” he told Ryans, then gave him a high-five.
The Seahawks, officially named the 757 Seahawks Youth Athletic Association, is one of many area groups using sports as an avenue for helping children lead good lives. Education is one emphasis. Togetherness is another. The backs of the Seahawks’ jerseys, where usually players’ names would be printed, instead have the word “family.”
“That’s what we try to preach,” said Lamar Elliott, who helps run the nonprofit organization.
Elliott is a former Chesapeake sheriff’s deputy. He served for about 19 years before retiring last year. While he was on the job, he one day heard three boys talking about how they raped a girl. They had committed the crime because they had nothing better to do, Elliott recalls them saying.
That got Elliott thinking. He wanted to start a youth sports league that emphasizes values. Today the Seahawks can play football in the fall, basketball in winter and a variety of sports in the spring.
Elliott’s is not the only league trying to lead youngsters on the right path. From Little League baseball and softball to Pop Warner football, there are dozens with that aim. Elliott notes that even those the Seahawks play against rely on volunteers to teach.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We might be rivals on the field, but we all have one common goal.”
Such efforts can prove beneficial, said Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan, whose office runs several programs aimed at youth, including a summer football camp.
O’Sullivan grew up in a single-parent family and said coaches were sometimes like father figures to him. Sports can help children grow stronger by letting them work through problems, he said.
“It’s a huge part of reaching our youth and helping them stay focused,” O’Sullivan said.
About two months after the Redskins trip, Janesha Chambers watched her 10-year-old son, Jayden Newsome, practice on a field near Crestwood Middle School on Great Bridge Boulevard in Chesapeake. The sun had set and Jayden was on a field without lights, making it tough to pick him out. Still, Chambers looked on dutifully.
Chambers used to live around the corner from Crestwood. But over the summer her family moved to Newport News, putting Jayden more than 30 minutes from the athletic fields.
Still, Jayden so loved playing for the Seahawks that at least twice a week during football season, Chambers drove him to practice. It’s a sacrifice she made because she likes the unity the league instills.
“Everybody works together,” Chambers said.
Starting after the holidays, the Seahawks will offer tutoring help, Elliott said. It’ll be provided through an initiative called iTEAM, led by Joi Boone, who has worked in the field of education for about a decade. Students in need will be able to get small-group help.
Players also have the chance for hands-on learning outside Hampton Roads. Shortly after the Redskins trip, a few youngsters traveled with Elliott up to Washington to take in historical sights.
Youngsters can also learn by watching coaches, said Regina Davis, who had two sons play for the Seahawks’ 12-and-under team this fall. One son, Marcus, broke his elbow during the season. In the weeks after, he received a steady flow of calls checking in on him.
“They are here to support,” Davis said.
At Crestwood that October night, typical coaching instructions filled the air.
“I don’t want any walking out here!”
“I need all your speed right now!”
But there were also reminders that the players are a team, not just individuals.
“Hustle! Hustle! Hustle!” one child implored a teammate.
“We get to learn about playing together,” said 11-year-old Vonjai Moore.
As she watched, Chambers said children will pick up on those lessons, and follow. It really is about that togetherness.
“It’s like a family,” she said.
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com
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