Youth sports league more than foot­ball

Em­pha­sizes val­ues

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MIKE CON­NORS

CH­E­SA­PEAKE, VA. | 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 Jaloni, 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.

Mr. 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, Mr. El­liott re­calls them say­ing.

That got Mr. 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.

Mr. 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. Mr. 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.

Sher­iff 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,” Sher­iff 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, Ms. Cham­bers looked on du­ti­fully.

Ms. 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, Ms. Cham­bers drove him to prac­tice. It’s a sac­ri­fice she made be­cause she likes the unity the league in­stills.

“Every­body works to­gether,” Ms. Cham­bers said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Su­per tiny mites play­ers from the 757 Sea­hawks Youth Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion (from left) Ke­mari Cole­man, To­bias Arm­strong and Korey Brown par­tic­i­pate in prac­tice drills in Ch­e­sa­peake, Vir­ginia.

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