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