The Dorchester Eagles of the Pop Warner football league, especially their coach and new president, Terry Cousins, are looking for a fresh start this fall.
“Leslie Goodwin has done a good job as past president,” said the Ferndale Street resident. “She has worked hard and led me up as new president. The kids are thankful.”
As he starts his tenure with a kick-off to the season on Sept. 9, Cousins, who has 16 years of coaching experience, wants parents to know their kids are practicing in a safe environment. “We live in it,” he said, referring to the shooting and drug dealing that have taken place at Casey Field in Corner, where the league holds practices. “Despite the violence, we are an organization that is trying to teach our kids not to be part of that violence. Pop Warner is a perfect place to start. We start them young and they learn discipline. I think football requires more discipline than any other sport. We offer scholarships. We want to reassure parents that it is safe to bring their kids out to practice.”
Parents seem to agree. Last Friday evening’s practice attracted some 100 football players, 50 cheerleaders ages 5 through 15, and numerous parents who looked on from the outskirts of the football field.
“We feel safer,” said Nitza Rodriguez, whose husband is a coach. “It’s more lit, there’s more activity, and police come on bikes and cruisers to patrol the place. We tell the kids not to go near the bleachers since that’s where the older kids hang out. We also make sure the kids go places in groups and with an adult.”
Rodriguez, who handles the financial aspect of the registration process, said that kids are admitted if they show they’re serious about a commitment. “We look at their report cards from the previous year as well as their physicals and birth certificates,” said the Columbia Road resident, who has three sons—ages 9, 10, and 11—playing for the Eagles.
Boston Police Department Deputy Superintendent William Gross echoed Rodriguez’s sentiment: “It’s easy to be bad,” he said in his motivational speech to the kids. “It’s not easy to do what you’re doing. Your community is a team. Respect each other and above all, respect your parents. It all begins at home. The coaches are here to help you become better men and to help you become leaders. You’re going to learn to take care of each other. One day you’re going to teach and make a big difference in your community.”
The coaches, many of whom are part of the Boston Foundation’s Street Safe initiative, often provide their own resources to make sure the kids can play football. Despite having day jobs and families, they make time to help the kids. And The Boston Foundation sponsors the league.
“They gave equipment, helmets, jerseys, and all the shirts for the uniforms,” said Rodriguez. “The shirts the kids used to wear were dingy, torn, and looked nasty. These are so much better.”
“We need people like this,” said Superintendent Gross, who heads the Youth Violence Strike Force of the Boston Police Department. “We could not do this without the community.”
Coach Cousins is right with that statement: “We have coaches that provide money out of pocket,” he said. “We also have parents that help fundraise and bring food for the concession stands, but we could use assistance from the public. There are people who can afford to donate more, and we hope they will. We want to get rid of the $150 registration fee and have the kids play for free.”