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big controversy over kids football in mass...

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  • big controversy over kids football in mass...

    This is from the boston globe...

    5 teams quit youth football league
    Decision stirs racial tensions
    By Donovan Slack, Globe Staff | June 6, 2005

    In what youth football officials are calling a crisis, five suburban Pop Warner teams have voted to leave a conference filled with urban teams, including those from Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury, roiling racial tensions in what is supposed to be a fun activity for 7- to-14-year-olds.

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    Sign up for: Globe Headlines e-mail | Breaking News Alerts Led by the Needham-Wellesley Eagles, teams from Natick, Weymouth, Framingham, and Norwood told Pop Warner officials they were leaving the Bay State Conference because they wanted to play more suburban teams.

    In interviews, team officials cited ''intimidating" rap music played at some city games, city teams' brand of hard-hitting football, and the safety of some city playing fields. Last summer, 11-year-old Jenry Gonzalez was shot in the chest during a Pop Warner practice in a Roxbury park.

    Boston coaches say the suburban teams' departures are nothing more than thinly veiled racial prejudice and that suburban team officials did not try hard enough to talk things out before leaving.

    ''You can sugar-coat it, but I call it like I see it. I think it's racist," Dorchester Eagles president Kenny Williams said. '' 'Black kids hit our kids harder, black kids listen to rap music' -- it doesn't make any sense to me."

    The allegations of prejudice are flying both ways.

    In a letter obtained by the Globe, Needham-Wellesley officials contend that a Boston coach getting off a bus at their football field egged on his players by saying, ''Let's go get some white [expletive]!" They also said a black coach from Boston called one of their players, who is Haitian, a ''traitor."

    ''We had to leave because our concerns weren't being met with any serious considerations," said Mike Libertini, vice president of the Needham-Wellesley Pop Warner organization, which is establishing a conference with other suburban teams in another league run by American Youth Football.

    For their part, coaches from city teams say that racially charged comments by them or their players are not tolerated. If anyone made them, they say, they no longer have their positions.

    The withdrawals have left the now nine-team Pop Warner conference with only one suburban team, Walpole, and an official there says it is considering withdrawing from the conference as well. Pop Warner officials had an emergency meeting last week and have scheduled another for Thursday to discuss the problem.

    It is perhaps the most contentious chapter in a saga that has played out over more than a decade. Since the first mostly nonwhite city team joined the Bay State Conference almost 12 years ago, predominantly white suburban teams have been leaving.

    The first was Hingham. When the Boston Raiders of Roxbury joined, Hingham team officials said they did not want to travel to the city, conference officials say. Over the years, as teams from Dorchester, Mission Hill, Mattapan, and the South End joined the conference, officials say, teams from Scituate, Randolph, Dedham, and Braintree left. The exodus last month was the biggest to date.

    ''I've got a really bad feeling," Paul Alconada, president of the Bay State Conference for the past 19 years, said. ''I could lose the whole conference."

    Pop Warner Little Scholars is a youth football and cheerleading organization founded in 1929 that prides itself on building character and focusing on academic achievement and positive athletic experiences in the approximately 360,000 young people involved in 41 states and several countries, according to the Pop Warner website. Each team has a board of directors that votes on management decisions, including fund-raising, coaching, and policies.

    Board members from Needham-Wellesley decided in April that they were fed up with Pop Warner management of the Bay State Conference, which they said allowed inappropriate, frequently racial, comments by Boston teams to go unpunished. They also complained that Boston teams have tryouts, prohibited under Pop Warner rules, and that they practice year-round, another violation of the rules, which allow practices only from August to December.

    ''Nobody was following the rules," Libertini said.

    They voted to leave the conference May 9. The next day, Libertini said, the Needham-Wellesley board invited other suburban teams to a meeting about American Youth Football. And one by one, they all followed Needham-Wellesley's lead, save Walpole. The Walpole Crusaders are meeting this month to discuss the issue.

    ''It is under consideration at this point in time," said vice president Gary Whittemore, who added that tensions fueling the split have been building for several years. Whittemore would only say that some of the teams leaving were concerned about safety.

    New England regional director Al Perillo said some suburban parents see drive-by shootings and murders in Boston on the nightly news, and they don't want their children to play in what they perceive as dangerous city neighborhoods. But he said he thinks the biggest reason for the suburban split is athletics.

    ''They're tired of getting beat 30-to-nothing every time they go to Boston," he said.

    The Dorchester Eagles have won the conference championship and made it to the national championship tournament at Disney World for the past four years. Libertini and other suburban officials deny they are tired of losing.

    Mattapan head coach Walter Applewhite said what is really needed is a heartfelt conversation about race. Applewhite said white suburban players hurl racial epithets at his players all the time. He says his players' hands get stepped on and their faces get spit on. Still, he and other Boston coaches said it is better that the conference include suburban teams.

    ''Our city teams love to go play in the suburbs, to see the other side, to see how nice it is in these suburban towns," said Lazar Franklin, president of the South End Titans.

    What is worse, he said, is the players are ''way too young" to deal with racial prejudice. ''This is about the kids," he said. ''This is ridiculous."
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  • #2
    It's a shame they had to leave, but it looks like the kids are getting their chance to play in the American Youth Football league. Playing is what it's all about anyway, why mess with crap like that if you don't have to? I've known of problems with Pop Warner for decades, maybe it's time to reorganize that mess. It's happening in other cities too, not just Boston.