by Kyjah Coryat
( WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NY ) New York is known for its heat-waves during the summer. It is Saturday, and Van Cortland Park which is New York’s fourth largest park, is crowded. Every time I blinked, the pool line became longer, another family took advantage of a vacant spot to barbecue, a street vendor made a sale, and the players of the Washington Heights Wildcats football team entered the field. The setting outside the football field is a backdrop to the story of how the Washington Heights Wildcats became a football team. The idea came from the founders of the Bantum team, Head coach Tommy Walker and Assistant coach Patrick Quinones were accustomed to watching children play football in the street at a barbecue. How can anyone have a serious football game when you’re trying to outrun and dodge vehicles of different sizes driving down the same street your playing a game? Inner city kids, especially those from low to moderate income households need an environment that is safe and nurturing. Thus, the idea of starting the Washington Heights Wildcats was born. Football can mean many things to different types of people. For most of the players on the Washington Heights Football team, it’s a chance to play organized football. For the community, it’s a chance to give the kids another sport to try. And for the coaches, in the literal sense, it’s a second family.
The boys practicing today are aged from 12-14, but the intermediate players aged 15-16 are on the field helping out as well. Despite the 101 degree heat advisory, they all play a practice game together. Within minutes of the first “pick,” founder and head coach Tommy Walker emerges onto the field carrying spare helmets and a duffel bag. He is wearing sunglasses but his players are not intimidated that they can’t see his eyes, they stop their game and run towards him. There is great respect for him. After reacquainting himself with the players and starting the warm-up, Tommy Walker stretches his arms back, and then brings them together, executing a loud clap, as a signal that practice has officially begun.
“The only difference between the city and suburbia is that suburbia has more trees,” says Coach Tommy Walker. The Washington Heights Wildcats work hard and are constantly learning more about football than they thought they knew. When I asked some of the players if they have ever been to a football game in a stadium, they mostly replied “no” but they have seen countless highlight videos and Super-Bowl Championship games. The boys learned that being on a team is not just about wearing the same colors, cleats, and helmets; its about discipline, control, and determination.
Last year at the Washington Heights Wildcats first game, they lost 32-0 to the Brooklyn Skyhawks. Four weeks later, the Brooklyn Skyhawks came to play the Washington Heights Wildcats at the Van Cortland field. The Washington Heights Wildcats won the game versus the Brooklyn Skyhawks 32-0. The reflection on this game shows the process of how the team was able to train their minds, and this transformation became their advantage. Competition is healthy but its the desire to win that gives the players and coaches of the Washington Heights Wildcats football team an edge.
Profile on players
During the warm-up, there were a few boys that stood out more than some of the others. These boys were standing in the middle leading the warm-up as Defensive Coordinator Ray Banks supervised accordingly. Defensive Coordinator Banks is tall but his presence does not overshadow the boys. They finish the warm-up and begin the drills.
Think of any cartoon you have seen that depicts football. What do you expect? Are you expecting a group of guys that are well over 5’10, with the strength of a beluga whale, all wearing stripes, and big smiles? This is what most people are thinking what football players look like. For football players, size is a factor that can determine a win or lose for a team. Jerry Gomez’s favorite player is Maurice Jones. Why? “People said he couldn’t do it.” Do what? I said. And he replied “to play… play because of his size.” Brandon Lawrence nods his head in agreement and says “because I am this size, it makes me want to push myself harder. Big people expect you to freeze, but we have to show them that we can play.” They are running backs. Nike is their favorite brand, which they’ve worn since early childhood. They are confident that Nike will still be around once they finish college and get drafted. When I said, what team do you want play for when you graduate? Theyinsist “It doesn’t matter what team I play for just as long as I make it… but it would be nice to play for the Giants.”The maturity in these words showed their commitment towards football. Football as a future can be looked at as a gamble but its more than just a bet, more than just a game, its an education.