PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Gun violence remains a problem in Portsmouth, and through the lens of some families they say they have witnessed it and are ready to see change. A man is on a mission to keep children off the streets, using his youth football league to keep them on a positive path.
This is a situation that has been dismissed on the pitch for a while now. Coaches say they train at the football ground known as ‘The Pines’, but parents say this football league plays a vital role for their children.
“Kids here, they can either be football players or be there for the next shooting, victim or shooter,” said Mary Simms, a local mother.
Junior football coach Jeshuan Snipes knows what it’s like to live with these challenges.
“I know I’ve been through things growing up. You know, to be honest, I’m a convicted felon and I decided to come home and change, to do better for the kids,” said Snipes.
It starts with mentoring. Like cleats plowing the grass of the soccer field, it’s more than just a sport. Snipes’ mission is to help children escape violence in Portsmouth.
“I see a lot of these young guys here passing away and I’ve seen them grow up, and I don’t want to see my kids go through that or their friends. So I feel like if we catch them at a young age – from 6 or 5 years old – we can stop a lot of the violence,” Snipes said.
The youth football league is called the Blackhawks. The snipers and other coaches were rooted in Chesapeake, but then decided to return to their hometown after hearing feedback from families about the need for more programs in the city.
An adoptive mother of five boys, Simms said her children are at an age where they may be at risk, which led her to join the Blackhawks for additional mentorship.
“We need to make Portsmouth child friendly, and at the moment I don’t see it being child friendly,” Simms said.
With a team full of players and parents as supporters, Snipes said he just needed more coaches and support from city leaders, especially when it came to funding.
“We really want to make sure parents who can’t afford it can still bring the kids in,” Snipes said.
City leaders have heard their plea and are extending a helping hand.
“The population they are going to reach will be different from some of the other organizations we have in this city, so I want to make sure they are able to serve children. In our city right now, we need those types of coaches and people who love kids,” Portsmouth Deputy Mayor De’Andre Barnes said.
So far the coaches have raised over $8,000 for the team. This money will go towards equipment, travel expenses for games and other uniforms.
If you are interested in registering your child for the Blackhawks, you can contact the coach at [email protected]
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