MILWAUKEE — A longtime Milwaukee organization celebrated a return to youth football and cheerleading on Saturday and held a march to condemn violence.
The Neighborhood Children’s Sports League (NCSL) held a large pep rally at Lincoln Park featuring a DJ, the football players and their families and team cheerleaders and their families.
For decades, the league has operated not just as a sports organization, but as an organization to mold young boys and girls as leaders and teach them skills so they can someday give back to their communities.
“It's always been my contention that if you can get young people engaged in activities that help build character, then you have less problems with them down the road,” said Earl Ingram, the former president of NCSL.
Ingram, who stepped down two years ago, led the league for 20 years.
“You start directing their steps, as opposed to trying to change them once they get to be 15, 16 years old, it’s a lot more difficult,” said Ingram.
The league enrolls six to 14-year-olds, and this year, it has expanded to 11 football teams, compared to just six in 2020.
The season will kick off in late August and run through October with games being held every Saturday at Lincoln Park from 8 a.m.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley joined the pep rally and march.
“We have seen a spike in violence within the past year, so for me it was extremely important to come and address these young people, let them know how much I appreciate them, and what role they play in making this a better community," said Crowley.
Non-fatal shootings in Milwaukee have increased more than 50 percent compared to June 2020, and that includes shooting incidents among juveniles.
This weekend, an eight-year-old and 13-year-old were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening gunshot injuries.
Crowley said it takes a village, like the league, to make an impact on the violence.
“It wasn't just about my parents holding me accountable, but it was also my neighbors holding me accountable.”
Brandi Harris, the mother of a league graduate, took on the role of NCSL program director to give back.
“It molded him [her son] and helped his self-esteem. It helped his mannerisms: knowing how to communicate with people, actually volunteering, community service, feeding the homeless, being able to go out there and be confident,” Harris said.
Her son now plays varsity football at Wisconsin Lutheran.
Some of the young athletes at Saturday’s rally are already acting as role models.
“It’s good, because we all just came out here and walked, holding up signs saying: ‘stop the violence.’ There are too many people just dying every day, so I don’t like it,” said Landon Slim, an 11-year-old with the league’s Texas Longhorn football team.
Slim said the sport, and their community outreach is about young kids helping each other out.