By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun
ABOVE PHOTO: Mayor Michael Nutter (at the podium) honors both championship teams at the Black Hawks Field at 11th & Cecil B. Moore.
Photo by Bill Z. Foster
On a chilly, overcast Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, the tumultuous parade down Broad Street for the North Philly Black Hawks and the Frankford Chargers had the kind of pomp and circumstance usually reserved for the city’s big four pro teams—The Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers.
Back in November, the North Philly Black Hawks (10-12 year-olds) youth football team captured the national Pop Warner football championship down in Orlando, Fla with a close win over the team from Jacksonville, Fla. The Frankford Chargers (14 and 15 year-olds), the East Regional champions, made it to the national semifinals.
When the Philadelphia Trolley Works cars that chauffeured both teams arrived at the Black Hawks field at 11th and Cecil B. Moore, not even the cutting cold of a December afternoon could dampen the enthusiasm of both teams and their well-wishers. Leading the teams into the stadium were the North Philly Stompers and that famed New Orleans jazz band, “Brass Heaven,” a band that has performed all over the world and at the jazz club Warmdaddy’s in South Philadelphia.
“It’s hard to describe because we know what the kids put into it,” said Sinoe Naji, whose 11-year son, Anthony Scott-Naji played defensive end for the North Philly Black Hawks. “And for them to come down to Broad Street and have the traffic stop. They were saying,’Oh, my God they’re stopping traffic on Broad Street for us. It made them feel really good.”
When the Black Hawks, clad in their gold and black jerseys, arrived they proudly displayed the trophy. A player and an assistant coach beat on the seats as if they were drums and chanted, “The Champs are here!” The Frankford Chargers were just as exuberant in displaying their red, white and blue.
“I felt really excited,” said 11-year-old Brian Harvey, who plays safety for the Black Hawks. “I was anxious to get into the parade, running around and getting into the trolleys. We had a lot of fun at (Disney World). Winning the championship, it was real good, we’re the first Black Hawks team to win a championship.”
The triumphant celebration for both teams goes beyond what both teams did on the playing field, it is a testament to the efforts of a supportive community in both the public and private sector. In tough economic times when local governments can barely come up with the money to keep basic city services, getting both the North Philly Black Hawks, which finished its season with an undefeated record and the Frankford Chargers took a championship effort.
“Even in tough economic times, we have to figure out a way to support these kinds of activities for our young people that are very, very important to them,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “It wasn’t just about going to a game or winning a game, it’s really about their future growth and development. These are memories they’ll carry with them forever.”
At the end of the season, both teams needed close to $30,000 make the trip down to Florida. While both teams managed to play their way to the Pop Warner championships through their performances on the field, the real fight was raising the money to make the trip down to Florida.
“The total cost ended up being somewhere around $30,000,” said Black Hawks head coach Derrick Williams. “There’s people who work the whole year and don’t make that. We were mandated to come up with that in a week in order for us to make the trip down. Our backs were totally against the wall. We had to raise enough money just to come up with our airfare ($14,000) and we still had to pay for our hotel, which came to about $16,000.
“That’s when the mayor and local businesses stepped in and they had our backs. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to bring home that nice trophy and the win the national championship without the city of Philadelphia and Mayor Michael Nutter.”
Upon receiving word of the two teams struggling to get down to Florida from Tumar Alexander , the city’s deputy director of legislative and community affairs, Nutter said he approached the Philadelphia Eagles, Sneaker Villa, Comcast, Michael Bowman’s Law Firm, and Mitchell and Ness to raise the money for both teams.
“We know that partnerships are very important and we reached out to about a half dozen different organizations or companies,” Nutter said. “Every one of the them said yes. They understood what the challenge was. We have some great corporate citizens in Philadelphia.”
Nutter also said the parade to celebrate the championship was also another example of the partnership between local government and the local business coming together to support young people.
During the midst of the ceremonies at the Black Hawks Field at 11th and Cecil B. Moore, Nutter talked about the possibility of helping improve the field sometime in the near future.
For the parents of the kids for both the North Philly Black Hawks and the Frankford Chargers, it was an opportunity to turnaround the negative stereotypes of young African-American males. More than their children’s athletic prowess, they made it a point to emphasize that in order for their kids to play Pop Warner, they have to be in good academic standing.
“It makes me feel great to be a part of an organization that turns around the opinion of the community,” Naji said “They have to be good scholars in order to sign up for Pop Warner.”
Naji also liked the idea that the trip to Orlando and Disney World gave some of the low-income member s of the team the chance to visit a place like Disney World.
“This gave the children that don’t have the opportunity to see (Disney World and be champions while seeing it, “Naji said.
Community activist Bilal Qayyum said the larger meaning of the success of both teams that participated in the national Pop Warner championships is that it brought a win for the young people of Philadelphia at a time when the rest of the world often highlights its losses.
“I think it’s great, Qayyum said. “If it was something negative it would be on the front page so now it’s positive, it needs to be on the front page. We need as many wins as we can get it when it pertains to the Black community in Philadelphia, particularly Black youth. It’s a win for the community.”