A youth football team on Chicago’s West Side is trying to beat more than just the opposing team.
The Garfield Park Gators are up against Chicago’s gun violence, and they don't lose games -- they lose players.
The Garfield Park Gators are preparing for their season opener next week. It's Coach Tim Hall's seventeenth year.
“I just want to get the kids out, get them from playing Fortnite all the time, and get them outside, just get em activated, just to do something in their community,” Hall said.
The boys say football keeps them out of gangs, and teaches important lessons.
“You just got to put your mind to what you want to do, stay out of the hood, stop the violence,” said Gary Montgomery.
“This help you stay out of gangs so when I grow up, i don't get in a gang and go to war,” said Markius Woods.
Coach Hall likes to talk about his successes. In the seventeen years he's run the program, there have been about a dozen players who have gone on to play college ball. But there have also been a number of players who have never escaped the violence of Chicago's West Side.
“Oh yeah, we had some sadness, we had maybe seven, eight kids that have been in the program murdered, it just, it takes a toll on you,” Hall said.
Most of the deaths have been in the last four or five years. Coach Hall says the victims were all innocent bystanders, no gang affiliations. Like Demarco Webster Junior, a 14-year-old honor roll student who was shot two years ago. His 9-year-old brother DuJuan Hester plays for the Gators.
“He was caught in the crossfire, he was helping his father rmove, they mistaked him for another person and he got hit,” Hester said.
“It's like losing a son, it's like a piece of me be gone,” Hall said.
But another "piece" of Coach Hall -- Raequan "Ray Ray" Williams -- is now a star defensive tackle at Michigan State University. Williams lost a brother and a cousin to gun violence in Chicago.
Fourteen-year-old Gary Montgomery got some coaching from Williams last Spring.
“This is Ray Ray jersey, that's my motivation,” Montgomery said.
The team gets by on donations. You can reach out to them at Garfield Park Gators.com.