COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Following recent violence in Columbus, city leaders, police, and parent are all calling on the community to come together, and one youth sports league is trying to do its part.
Normally, Homecoming is held for high schools or colleges, but Sunday marked Homecoming for the Weinland Park Wildcats Youth Athletic Initiative.
Organizers said it was a chance for the young athletes to connect with those who were once in their shoes.
Before, during, after, and in between plays, young athletes learned lessons not only about the game but also about life.
“Teaching them discipline, teaching them leadership, learning how to work together,” said Terryl Hogans, a coach with the Weinland Park Wildcats.
Hogans said teaching the children in the program how to deal with adversity on the field also helps them handle adversity off the field.
“It takes a community,” said Hogans, who has been a coach with the program for 11 years. “It’s not just parents by themselves. We have to help each other. It takes all of us.”
In recent years and as recent as this month, violence at the city’s parks has resulted in the loss of young lives. An 8-year-old girl was shot and injured and an 18-year-old woman was cut during a fight at Weinland Park in May. This past week, 15-year-old Lovely Kendricks was shot and killed during a fight at Franklin Park on Monday. Another child, 13-year-old Sinzae Reed, was killed during a shooting Wednesday in the Hilltop neighborhood.
The initiative also offers cheerleading and basketball and is open to children from 8 to 13 years old. League leaders help keep the children out of trouble and get them on the right path, which is part of the reason Mario Jordan’s son plays.
“It takes more, so this is us doing more,” said LaWon Seller, head coach and president of the Weinland Park Wildcats Youth Athletics Initiative. “The community needs to come out and like they say, the statement, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Well, this is that village. This is what we want to promote. Parents, coaches, family members working together to keep our kids safe.”
“Our kids having something to do when they get out of school and keep them away from the stuff that’s going on around them,” Jordan said.
The teams played their Homecoming games Sunday, followed by a celebration at Weinland Park. Sellers said it’s important for former coaches and players to get together with those on the team.
“When the younger new children see that, they see kids that were here previous, and they come back and they’re still alive, they’re not in jail, they’ve graduated, that’s all the motivation for us to keep doing what we do,” he said.
There are still a few games left in the Wildcats season, with a tournament is being planned for November.