Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Time to Practice: Huddle Up; Group Gives Kids a Chance to Play Football, Avoid Trouble

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Time to Practice: Huddle Up; Group Gives Kids a Chance to Play Football, Avoid Trouble

Article excerpt

Byline: Derek Gilliam

Alphonzo Wadley used to get into trouble. The 14-year-old would solve problems with his fists. One time he set fire to a garbage can at school. But because of football, Alphonzo's behavioral problems stopped, his mother said.

The Woodland Acres Athletic Association began four years ago with about 80 children recruited from Arlington and Southside neighborhoods. Last year, about 150 children ranging in age from 5 to 14 years old learned teamwork and discipline while playing sports.

Wendell Duncan, association president, said he wanted to give back to the community by helping children in Jacksonville's high-crime areas.

"We were just trying to give them an outlet," he said.

At first, the teams held practices in a part of town dubbed Sin City. They practiced behind Woodland Acres Elementary, but after an incident when about 80 gunshots interrupted practice, Duncan moved the team to Victory Park off Fort Caroline Road.

"We had like 100 kids at the practice," he said. "... We moved over here and I feel like it's more secure."

Many of the children who participate in the program deal with problems at home. Some haven't eaten all day. Some can't get rides.

Johnathan Smith, association football coordinator, said the coaches try not to let finances get in the way. Coaches give rides to practice and games. Some players receive scholarships. The association finds and provides inexpensive cleats. Hot dogs are cooked after some practices.

There is a $150 fee, but the association allows payment plans.

None of the coaches are paid and all the money goes back into the program for things like equipment and end-of-year banquets, Duncan said.

Saturday about 50 children participated in a free football camp at Victory Park. The free camps start in January and are held on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. until the beginning of June.

Their football season ends in November. That's 10 months of weekly interaction. …

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