CLEVELAND — Some Ohio organizations are hoping sports can help tackle the issue of youth violence.
The Cleveland Renegades offers kids from 5 to 14 the chance to play football or cheer. The team’s a part of the Cleveland Muny League.
This is Derrick Sutton’s sixth season on the field.
“It’s been cool," he said. "It’s been fun."
If the 11-year-old wasn’t running with his teammates, he said he’d just be hanging out at home.
“Just home, eating some noodles,” he said.
That boredom is exactly what Ward 5 Councilman Richard Starr wants to avoid.
Starr is a former Renegade and now the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio’s Sports and Recreation director. He’s coaching his old team this season and helped condition the kids for game day during practice.
“When you have youth as young as 13, 14-years-old carrying pistols and turning to the streets, that’s what we then need to look at and say that we’re fundamentally doing something wrong,” he said.
Starr said he encouraged Cleveland City Council to increase funding for the league by about $80,000 this year. He also brought the Cleveland Municipal Housing Authority and Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio on board to help with the team’s operations.
Dozens of kids are expected to represent the Renegades this year, with about 43,000 kids taking part in teams across the league.
“A lot of times you tell kids things and they don’t really get the message, but through football, it teaches you a lot of life skills,” Renegades coach Reggie McCory said. “Teamwork, discipline, how to follow directions.”
McCory also played in the league when he was a kid. He said the game helped give his life some direction, something he’s hoping to pass on to this generation.
“I’m not a cop, I'm not a politician,” he said. “So, I have to find my own way of giving back to my community.”
More than a dozen professional football players got their start in the Cleveland Muny League, which inspired many of the kids now on the field to pursue the sport. Starr said he’s counting on that drive and determination to help score the goal of less youth violence.
“There’s no such thing as gangs in Ward 5,” he said. “There’s only Ward 5 and Renegades. That’s it. That’s the strongest gang that there is.”
The Cleveland Muny League season runs through November.