Chicago youth football team faces venue challenges amidst violence concerns

No place to play.

A frustrated group of youth football players and coaches say violence, which has nothing to do with them, is keeping them off the field.

The Chicago Hellcats, based in Chatham, were playing a game last Saturday when what coaches said was a completely unrelated shooting interrupted one of their games. Since then, coaches said they've lost access to the playing fields they had been contracted to use, and are now asking for help from the Chicago Park District.

"We don't want to be seen in a negative light," said Hellcats President Vaughn Harris. "Everything we do is 100 percent positive. We want to give these kids a safe space to grow and flourish in. That's our objective."

Parents said their kids have been growing and flourishing in large part because of the Hellcats.

"This program has done that for many children that don't have those active parents and that are in the streets," said Marissa Simmons.

But after last Saturday, when gunfire broke out at Mandrake Park at roughly 11a.m., the school where they were scheduled to play canceled their contract to use the fields going forward.

"It's really disappointing because the kids are impacted. The kids last weekend lost a little bit of innocence of no fault of their own," said Ira Bell, whose two sons have gone through the Hellcats football program.

The Chicago Hellcats are still practicing, and thankfully another youth club came to their aid and offered to host their games on Sunday on the West Side, but coaches said they worry they're being singled out because of the shooting, and are having difficulty finding a place to play on the South Side where almost all their players are from.

"We got word from a high school that we were supposed to play at this weekend, and they flat-out told us that we couldn't play there due to the situation that happened, and it's unfortunate," said team VP Ralph Colton. "It had nothing to do with our program."

The Hellcats have one more regular season game and a few more weekends of playoffs this fall. They are calling on the Chicago Park District to help them secure a venue somewhere on the South Side, as many of their players do not have access to cars, making it very difficult to travel to other areas.

The Chicago Park District released the following statement:

"The Chicago Park District requires park gatherings of 50 or more to have a permit to ensure that all park users may enjoy use of park facilities safely. The private football league, named The Hellcats, does not have a standing permit or partnership agreement for use of the Mandrake Park facilities or the fields at any other Park District location, as is required of all football teams that are not part of the Park District’s regular programming."