To com­bat gun vi­o­lence, coaches urge more fund­ing for youth sports

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MADE­LINE KEN­NEY, STAFF RE­PORTER mken­ney@sun­times.com | @mad­ken­ney

Corey Brown sees him­self as an ex­am­ple for why in­vest­ing in youth sports in Chicago is im­por­tant.

From a young age, Brown im­mersed him­self in sports. The tall and lanky 22-year-old en­joyed play­ing foot­ball, but his true pas­sion was base­ball.

That love took him to North­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity, where he was an un­der­grad stu­dent as­sis­tant for the school’s Di­vi­sion I base­ball team.

“I’m not gonna lie to you, sports saved my life,” Brown, of Pull­man, said Wed­nes­day. “If it wasn’t for sports, I would be out there do­ing some­thing that I don’t even want to talk about.”

Brown was one of a few dozen youth coaches from around the city who called on city and state of­fi­cials to do a bet­ter job sup­port­ing youth sports, which they be­lieve will help com­bat gun vi­o­lence pri­mar­ily plagu­ing the South and West sides.

About 150 young ath­letes sit­ting on the Jack­son Park foot­ball field served as the back­drop for the news con­fer­ence, which took place just hours af­ter a 9-year-old boy was shot Wed­nes­day in the Austin neigh­bor­hood.

“The way to stop the gun vi­o­lence, the way to stop gangs, the way for us to do that is through youth sports,” said Ernest Rad­cliffe, the founder and di­rec­tor of sev­eral youth sports pro­grams, in­clud­ing “The Show” base­ball team and Wolf­pack foot­ball, who or­ga­nized Wed­nes­day’s event. “We want to part­ner up with Mayor Lori Light­foot and the gov­er­nor and the pow­ers that be to show them that we can be boots on the ground.”

Since June 22, five chil­dren 10 years old or younger have died from gun vi­o­lence in Chicago, ac­cord­ing to Sun-Times records. Rad­cliffe called the re­cent fa­tal shoot­ings in­volv­ing mi­nors “dis­turb­ing” and “trou­bling.”

“I felt in my heart, I needed to step up,” he said. “It’s a proven fact that if we cap­ture our youth at a young age and put them in some­thing that’s very pos­i­tive, put them in youth sports, that they will pros­per and move on to be bet­ter peo­ple.”

Rad­cliffe asked for more fund­ing and proper re­sources to help the youth sports or­ga­ni­za­tions con­nect with chil­dren and teens through­out the city. This is es­pe­cially para­mount now, Wolf­pack coach Rynell Mor­gan said, with the coro­n­avirus pan­demic forc­ing schools to go on­line this fall.

“With the pan­demic that’s go­ing on through­out the coun­try and through­out the world, it is very im­por­tant that we have pro­grams for these kids to do some­thing,” Mor­gan said.

Rad­cliffe also called on the YMCA and Park District to bring back their youth pro­gram­ming amid the pan­demic.

“All I want is some­body to give us the re­sources and let us show you what we can do,” Rad­cliffe said. “If [youth sports di­rec­tors and coaches] had more re­sources in ev­ery sin­gle one of their com­mu­ni­ties, we could save more kids.” Brown agreed with Rad­cliffe. “Change has to come, and change starts with us [coaches] and change starts with the gov­er­nor and mayor,” Brown said. “We need help.”

Brown has de­cided to ded­i­cate him­self to the youth sports pro­grams that helped him. He serves as the coach for The Show’s un­der-17 base­ball team.

“We al­ways see the sad sto­ries, you never see the suc­cess sto­ries, and there are a lot of suc­cess sto­ries,” Brown said. “With­out coach

Mor­gan and coach Rad­cliffe, hon­estly, I don’t know where I would be . ... It’s a bless­ing, I spent my en­tire sum­mer [and win­ter break] with my ball play­ers. … I do it for them, not for my­self.”

Brown on Mon­day is start­ing his first year of grad­u­ate school at North­ern Illi­nois, where he plans to study men­tal health coun­sel­ing for ado­les­cents. He plans to con­tinue coach­ing, while bal­anc­ing his stud­ies, and hopes to one day open men­tal health clin­ics in Chicago.

“Just to give back to the ado­les­cents be­cause they need some­body to talk to,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of things that go through some of their minds, that they feel like no­body can re­late to. … They can come to me on real-life prob­lems, that I can help with . ... I want to con­tinue to give back.”

ABOVE: ‘‘The Show’’ base­ball play­ers sit at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day that called on Mayor Lori Light­foot to bet­ter sup­port youth sports pro­grams.

LEFT: Corey Brown holds up a let­ter one of his young ath­letes wrote him this week, thank­ing him for ‘‘giv­ing me base­ball’’ and work­ing ‘‘so hard to take care of us.’’

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