Because football is such a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to share with you some pictures from a hometown neighborhood team we thought you’d might like to cheer on.
For the last six months or so, a group of about 25 kids from Watts have traveled throughout the Southland playing other 9- to 11-year-olds in Pop Warner football games. They just finished their last game of the season, a bowl game against the Temeulca Wolfpack. The players outdid themselves, taking home a big W to close out the season, 28-8.
The Watts Bears are a new team formed and coached by the Los Angeles police officers at the Southeast station. Coach Z -- a.k.a. senior lead officer Zarren Thompson -- heads the team.
“The purpose was just to bring kids from different neighborhoods and showing that you can be friends no matter what street or what neighborhood you live in or what housing development you stay in or what my uncle or my dad used to do,” he said.
Many of the kids live in areas with rigid neighborhood gang turf boundaries that can split apart neighborhoods, families and friendships.
The officers pick the players up from school to practice and return them home. Lots of them don’t have steady transportation. More than that, it’s pretty dangerous and tempting for the youngsters to walk the streets at night and find themselves in trouble.
In order to stay on the team throughout the season, the kids have to keep up their grades at school and the middle school principal has to sign off on behavior reports. Guess who comes in to check on them at school? The coaches/officers.
“I played a lot and it’s just the same as regular coaches. You can’t tell they police officers, they regular coaches,” 11-year old Curshawn Snelson told me.
Snelson hopes football will get him into college where he wants to study engineering so he can build houses and buildings. Lots of the kids on the team harbor dreams of college.
“I wanna buy people cleats,” said one boy named Robert Turner. “We should start a business like that and just give kids cleats for all the kids in Watts that wanna play football.”
All of the boys on the team said the easiest part of playing for the team was that it was free.
Coach Z gets that.
“I grew up without a dad and a single mom. Never had an opportunity to play any organized sports because mom couldn’t afford it so coming here and giving back to these kids and letting them play free, it’s great,” said Thompson.
Next year, they hope to expand the program to a second squad and involve younger kids. They’ll need more coaches, Thompson said. So they’ll be looking to Watts parents or other local adults who might want to volunteer time coaching practices and games and mentoring the players.