As the Journey House Packers started their two-hour football practice on a hot and humid Monday evening at Mitchell Park, they did so knowing how it feels to be a winning team. All three age groups of the Journey House Packers — like their namesake, the world-champion Green Bay Packers — finished the 2010 season as division champions.
Accomplishing such a milestone takes much more than athleticism, according to Charles Brown, director of youth programs for Journey House. The program teaches and encourages fitness and good nutrition, and also emphasizes life skills and character development. The ultimate goal is to build a stronger community.
“[The program] is about more than just scoring touchdowns and playing games. It’s an infusion of important skills that our kids wouldn’t otherwise learn,” Brown said.
Whether or not they ever pick up the pigskin again, the 112 boys participating in the program this season will learn skills that will help them succeed in life.
The program, which began in 2005, focuses on nine weekly themes: responsibility, goal setting, sportsmanship, leadership, smart moves, teamwork, commitment, perseverance and no excuses. The meaning behind the theme of the week is discussed with players before, during and after each practice.
The themes teach players that winning comes from dedication and that they must work to make progress, said Martin Weddle, head coach of the Junior team.
Each player must sign a contract that enforces a strict conduct code both on and off the field. “If we find out from a parent or teacher that one of our players was lying or talking back, they’ll be sitting on the sidelines right next to me,” Weddle said.
In addition to standards of behavior, the program also enforces educational requirements. Weddle said failing grades in school result in player ineligibility on game days.
Last year, Brown wanted to find a way not only to boost players’ reading scores, but also to show them the importance of reading, he said. Thus, in order to register for football, each player now must have a library card. Players also must choose a book to read, and complete a book report to turn in with their uniform at the end of the season.
The program has three teams divided by age: Pee Wees (6- to 8-year-olds), Juniors (9- to 11-year-olds) and Majors (12- to 14-year-olds). Practice begins in June and takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mitchell Park.
The season begins in early September, and the teams play every Saturday, Brown said. There are six games in the season, excluding the playoffs. Other teams in the league are the Lindsay Heights Titans, Hmong American Peace Academy Patriots, Milwaukee Christian Center Cowboys, Agape Community Center Steelers, Young Leadership Academy Knights, LaVarnway Boys & Girls Club Cowboys and the Community Team LSU Tigers.
The program also features a cheerleading team for girls ages 6 to 14. Though the Journey House Packers cheerleading team consists of only 20 girls this season, Brown said he hopes the number will increase enough to create three teams—one for each of the boys’ teams—in future seasons.
The structured, academic and focused setting distinguishes the Journey House program from others, said Latrease Whitley, mother of two sons on the Junior team.
“For me as a parent, it seems great for these kids to have a male role model to teach them beyond the fundamentals of football,” Whitley said.
Keeping kids active in something positive will keep them inactive in something that is negative, Brown said.
“Our colors are green and gold, just like the [Green Bay] Packers,” Brown said. “I’d much rather see our boys in our colors than in gang colors.”