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Neighborhood Children’s Sports League gets kids involved at young age

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- If you drive by McGovern Park on a Saturday in the Fall, you'll see 750 boys ages six through 14 having a blast playing football in the Neighborhood Children's Sports League.

"Many of these young men live in the neighborhoods that make up the war zone that is the city of Milwaukee. This is bigger than any game. Football is a game. So what we do is use the game and the ball as a tool to build character in young boys," Earl Ingram Jr. said.

Earl Ingram Jr. has given his heart and soul to the youngsters as league president for 15 years.

"Young boys are lost because our communities have changed so drastically. When I was a young boy, 70-80 percent of the households in my community were headed by nuclear families. Everybody knows the statistics now -- they don't exist," Ingram Jr. said.

The coaches are mentors and father-figures for the boys.

"We make it clear to our coaches that their responsibility is to make them a better human being. Give them leadership, direction and guidance," Ingram Jr. said.

Robert Reddic started his son in the Neighborhood League 25 years ago, and he's still coaching!

"You hear about death with kids all the time. It has been going on for years in this city. That was one of the main reasons I stuck even after my son went to high school. For some reason, these boys, you look them in the eyes and this is something that they want to do, and this is something that I grabbed hold to and ran with," Reddic said.

Running with it is just what 10-year-old Malik Williams loves to do.

"I like getting the ball. I like getting the ball a lot. You really have to have good sportsmanship because if you don't you're getting into fights and stuff. You can't be having that. You'll get your team penalties," Williams said.

"The kids gravitate to us. We keep them off the streets. Give them some victories in life, give them some defeats in life. Let them understand both sides of the coin so that they don't go off the beaten track," Timothy McMurtry, NCSL Commissioner said.

The program is volunteer-based -- no one gets paid except for the officials. When asked how they afford everything year after year, Ingram Jr. said every year, God has provided. Even when he has been asked to downsize, he's said he couldn't do it, because the challenges are just so big.

"I think there's something wrong when you start telling young children who don't get a chance to pick their parents, that because you don't have any money, you can't participate in sports. I think when we start doing that, we begin to put a gun in a young man's hands, and they wind up doing the things that they do in our community," Ingram Jr. said.

The Neighborhood League is made of nine different organizations -- each consisting of three teams -- peewees, juniors and majors. There's food, fans and cheerleaders.

The NCSL is all about family. Jo Jo is the matriarch of the Ravens family.

"These are my babies. Like I say, I've been here for five years already. This is my life. This keeps me going. This is who Jo Jo is. If it wasn't for the NCSL I don't know. I'd be at home. Who knows doing what," Jo Jo said.

Jo Jo has two sons who play, a daughter who is captain of the cheerleading team and a husband who is everything from coach to cook.

Her Ravens family was with her every step of the way when she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in July.

"They give me my strength. They give me my courage to come out here and do this on a daily basis. This is what I live for," Jo Jo said.

The NCSL has given everybody something to live for.

"Just to keep my son off the streets, keep him in a positive atmosphere, I mean, I can't ask for much better than this," one parent said.

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