BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — On most fall nights in Bridgeport, the Wakeman Cowboys youth football team can be seen practicing.
Except, it’s on a baseball field.
The program starts after school at the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club. It’s part of a partnership that brings together more than 120 kids from the fourth to the eighth grade to offer tutoring, crafts and a weight room.
“Football is not just sports, it’s also a way to learn other life skills as in character, leadership development, teamwork, being able to overcome adversity — all of that was really important to us and it fits right in with our mission,” Sabrina Smeltz, the Walkman Boys and Girls Club CEO, said.
It’s goal is to shape both the body and the mind.
“You see a lot of potential walking around the neighborhood, and sometimes I’m reluctant to use the word ‘potential,’ but potential is always there until it’s actually used, and now we’re teaching kids to understand you have potential, what are you going to do with it?” said John “JB” Brown, the program’s director.
Brown said that while the coaches are tough on them, they also show kindness and love, which he said inner-city boys don’t know how to accept from others.
“I tell these kids that I love them,” Brown said. “This is more than just football.”
Nick Morris, a coach, said his love for football helped get the program off the ground.
“A lot of these parents are very hardworking parents, and if we can have their kids here being productive, learning, participating in a sport, it’s a win-win for everyone,” he said.
The students are guaranteed a hot meal after every practice, with family members often joining in, as well.
It’s become a community-wide effort, with parents watching practice and local restaurants stepping in to help.
“I can care less about wins and losses,” Brown said. “Yes, we’re here to win. Yes, we want to teach success. But if I can get a kid to go to Fairfield Prep, or go to Harding, and be successful on the field, that means more to us than a championship or a win in any book.”