St. Raphael invites Chicago youth team to friendly game
Coach Tim Hall, a native of Garfield Park, knows all too well the challenges the kids on his Chicago-based football team face on a daily basis. Gang violence isn’t something they read about or see on TV — they live it.
On Aug. 25, the Garfield Park Gators football family lost one of their own when former player Lavander Hearnes, 14, was shot just blocks from his home and the field where Hall holds practice.
“They weren’t shooting at him, but he got caught in the crossfire,” Hall said. “He never even got to start high school. The kids have been kind of down this year, and we are trying to honor him and get a football team down to Florida (for nationals).”
That’s where the St. Raphael football program comes in. Wednesday night they welcomed the Chicago youth team to a friendly competition.
Hall brought two teams of players in grades five through eight to Naperville for the gridiron matchup arranged by St. Raphael program president Jim Brown.
Brown learned about Hall and his program last year through their affiliation with the American Youth Football League. Both men use “kids first” as their guiding principle, and understand the difference sports can make in the life of a child.
“Regardless of where football is played, it is a vehicle of development of the child in terms of life skills,” said Brown, 74. “The life skills are more important — and more applicable — because very few kids that start out in youth football end up playing in college or in the pros.”
Coach Hall, 47, views youth sports not only as a way to develop physical skills, but as a venue for much more.
“I take sports and use it as a tool to get kids to keep their grades up,” Hall said. “Our rule is no books, no ball. If you don’t keep your grades up, you can’t play with us.”
When several teams folded within Hall’s Chicago league, he needed to find teams to play, and Brown and his coaching staff were eager to help.
“Sports levels the playing field,” said Brian O’Malley, head coach for St. Raphael’s junior varsity team. “It builds confidence and teaches kids a good work ethic; these lessons will take kids a long way throughout their entire life.”
The Gators arrived from the city more than an hour late because of traffic, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of about 50 football players, coaches and the Gator Girlz cheerleading teams.
“I love the sport and the game,” said Garfield Park eighth-grader Eric McNair. “With the Gators, I can have fun with my teammates and take care of business on the field.”
Brown said the inaugural match is just the beginning of a relationship with Hall and the Gators organization.
“We plan to meet and develop an ongoing relationship that would be in the best interest of Tim and Bright Determined Children Sports,” said Brown. “We have planned a scrimmage for August, and there have been a number of ideas presented by parents and coaches that Tim has to evaluate. He knows what is best and what he needs.”
For more than a decade, Hall has run the Gator football program through Bright Determined Children Sports, a nonprofit organization he founded to enrich the lives of inner-city youth throughout the East Garfield area of Chicago.
“Kids idolize rappers, football players and sports people, but they don’t idolize teachers, judges and doctors,” the coach said. “So, we tell them you have to keep your grades up to play sports; in order to become this bigtime football player or basketball player, you have to have an education.”
On the web
Coach Tim Hall said without community support and that of the Chicago Park District, he couldn’t do what does. The Gators Football program does not charge a registration fee to players (who pay for uniforms only). To learn more or make a donation, visit www.goodcitychicago.org and search for BDC Sports.