Rain and distant thunder were no deterrents for about 100 or more student athletes who took part in Sunday’s “Stop the Violence Football Camp” at Scott Park on Jacksonville’s Northside.
Santana Jackson, 14, was among them.
He’ll be a ninth-grader at Ribault High School this fall. He came to the camp to learn more about the sport and also to support the message behind the event, he said during a quick break.
The message was shared with the participants by several speakers before the activities began on the field: You are part of a community that cares about you and a team that supports you, and you can be part of a brotherhood that stays away from violence.
“Pull your friends away from bad situations,” said Travis McCall, one of about 20 coaches who helped organize the football camp. “It takes a man to walk away. We’ve got to start taking care of each other. Don’t let anybody change your mind. … We don’t want to see your faces on the news.”
The free football camp was put together quickly, said Michael Holloway, a football coach at Matthew Gilbert Middle School. It was in response to the latest “senseless act of violence” involving a student athlete: the death of Darryl Mack, 19, a recent graduate of Mandarin High School, who was found shot to death at the wheel of an SUV on Lem Turner Road on June 25.
McCall reminded the students to stay focused on academics and athletics.
“You can’t have one foot in the schoolhouse and one in the streets,” he said.
Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown encouraged the young crowd to commit themselves to excellence and “make sure you reach your God-given potential.”
Staying focused on education was key to their future, he said. When Brown asked the students how many wanted to go college, they all raised their hands.
An athletic coach can be a student’s mentor, father figure or big brother, said Charron Dorsey, a football coach at Matthew Gilbert.
“A lot of us here today have been involved with or played sports our whole lives and we know how sports changed us,” Dorsey said. “Some of us came from tough backgrounds, too, and we know what it means to have someone to tell you you are important and help you stay motivated.”
The key, he said, is to let the kids know they are part of something — a team in which they support their peers, encouraged by coaches who believe in them.
“It’s two communities coming together to make one community,” Dorsey said.
Though the football camp was aimed at Northeast Florida middle and high school athletes, it was open to anyone.
Jeff Johnson, who grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, brought his 14-year-old son, Niles, to take part in it. Johnson, who is friends with some of the camp’s coaches, said he wanted to show his continued support for the community and the cause.
“I think the message is vitally important,” he said. “I’m from this area.”
Holloway, from Matthew Gilbert, said he hoped to make the “Stop the Violence Football Camp” an annual event.
“Maybe we’ll switch parks and carry the message to other parts of the city,” he said.
Marian Hannah watched from the bleachers as her two grandsons — both of whom will be attending Ribault High in the fall — participated on the field. Their father was out there, too, as a coach.
She said she strongly supported the camp and the message behind it.
“We want them to know we’re here to protect them and to get them involved in community sports and other things that are good for them,” Hannah said.
The camp was also emphasizing a sense of camaraderie that extended beyond a particular campus.
“Just because kids attend different schools doesn’t mean they can’t be friends,” she said.
Hannah said she supported the idea the “Stop the Violence Football Camp” could become a yearly event that could take place in different areas of the Jacksonville.
“Violence is a community problem,” she said. “There is no safe side.”
David Crumpler: (904) 359-4164
You can read the original Florida Times-Union article here.