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Jul, 2016

Peace Bowl at UC about more than just football

Peace Bowl at UC about more than just football

Mingo in partnership with the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission and the Fred Shuttlesworth Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The goal is to promote non-violence and collaboration between youths of different neighborhoods through football.

"The children get to see that they can come together from communities and enjoy each other in a sports atmosphere and an educational atmosphere where they don't have to fear fighting or any negative impacts," said Peace Bowl Executive Director Freeman McNeal.

What started as a bridge between Evanston and Avondale football leagues has now extended to include more than 40 teams from across the country, including those from Illinois, West Virginia and South Carolina.

Peace Bowl leaders say living in the inner city can be tough, and it's very territorial. The love of football is a common ground that brings these kids a friendship they wouldn't have found otherwise.

Mending the university and the community relationship

Football is also a common ground between UC and its community.

For the first time, the University of Cincinnati Department of Public Safety and UC Athletics hosted more than 850 kids in kindergarten through sixth grade playing in the youth football tournament. UC officials said it was an inspiring opportunity to engage youth and give them a chance to be part of the UC family.

"We are working hard to get our youth to further connect with the city and the heartbeat of our program," UC Athletic Director Mike Bohn said. "We want everybody to be able to share the wonderful aspects of UC athletics and its facilities."

UC Vice President for Public Safety and Reform Robin Engel said she wants the children in UC's community to feel like the university is a place where they belong, not just as a campus that's in the middle of their neighborhood.

“For many of these kids, this is going to be the first time they have stepped foot on a college campus,” Engel said. “We want them to see what it could be like for them to pursue their dreams and get here through athletics and education.”

Engel and the Department of Public Safety also want these kids to experience UC police officers in a different light.

"It's great that we get to interact with the kids and toss the football around," UCPD officer Wendy Martin said. "They're used to seeing
us on their street and that's not all we do. We're all here for them."

Martin said it's big for UC to host the tournament and have UC police officers out there because then kids and their parents can see that the officers are here to serve the community.

McNeal said the community relationships between the university and the African-American community is strained, especially after UC police officer Ray Tensing shot and killed Samuel DuBose last summer.

He said those can be mended with truth and forgiveness. The relationship is also rebuilt through events like this, which shows the kids that all the negativity they may see and hear about UC isn't necessarily the way it is.

"To have a major university allow our kids to be able to play in a professional environment prepares them as they grow up to be useful and have pride in this educational facility," McNeal said.

He said wants UC to be the permanent location for the Peace Bowl.

"The university isn't a bad area or a bad thing," McNeal said. "It's an educational facility that you can come to and that's willing to work with you in the community to get you the opportunity you might not have had in the past."

Engel said playing in these games at UC could be transformative and change the course of where they’re going and how they plan to get there.

They're coaching more than just football

Marye Ward has been coaching football in Cincinnati for 12 years with the Evanston Bulldogs. She's been part of the Peace Bowl since it began."This could be some of these kids' only chance to play on a college field and it's a memory they'll have for the rest of their lives," she said.

Ward said a lot of these kids don't have "somebody" they can depend on, so she and the other coaches work to be a constant in the kids’ lives, which are sometimes tainted by crime and substance abuse."No matter what, they've got somebody they can come to if things get tough," Ward said. "They don't have to go out on the street and do something crazy, they can reach out to me."

Coaching in this football league is more than just drawing up plays for players as an after-school activity.It means making home visits and getting their players tutoring if they are struggling in school.It means being a counselor and a shoulder to cry on when loved ones are lost.

It means having tough conversations about family struggles and domestic violence.For some coaches, including Milan Lanier Sr., it means being a father figure to kids by taking them into his home for the weekend to make sure they have enough food and a safe place to stay.

"The season is short," Ward said. "But, they always come knocking on my door."She said that support has brought many kids up the right way and helped some earn full scholarships to college."We want them to know that if they need something to let us know," she said, whether it's two dollars to go to the store or a moment to sit and talk. "And we take that to heart."

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